STARKVILLE, Miss. -- With cowbells clanging away, Mississippi State remained unbeaten Saturday night with a 41-31 victory over Tennessee at Scott Field.
Here’s an instant analysis from the game:
It was over when: After Tennessee had pulled within 34-31 with a little more than five minutes to play, Mississippi State put together the game-clinching touchdown drive, which was capped by Malcolm Johnson’s one-handed touchdown catch in the back of the end zone. The big play in the drive was Tyler Russell’s 10-yard pass to Chad Bumphis on a third-and-7 play over the middle. Russell came back later in the drive, and was able to scramble and hit Bumphis for 23 yards down to the Tennessee 23.
Turning point: With Mississippi State leading 27-24, Tennessee running back Devrin Young was stripped of the ball on the sideline by Johnthan Banks, who pounced on it at the Vols’ 30-yard line with 9:12 remaining. Mississippi State scored three plays later to take a 10-point lead with just less than eight minutes to play.
Game ball goes to: Russell finished with a career-high 291 passing yards. He was 23-of-37 with a pair of touchdown passes and no interceptions. In three SEC games this season, he’s thrown seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Key stat: Mississippi State is off to its best start since 1999, when the Bulldogs played in the Cotton Bowl.
Key stat 2: Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray was held to 148 passing yards, his lowest output as a starter.
What it means: Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0) gained the legitimacy it was looking for with its biggest win of the season. The No. 19 Bulldogs likely will now go into the Alabama game Oct. 27 unbeaten; they get Middle Tennessee at home next week. The Vols (3-3, 0-3) are now looking at a long October. They get Alabama at home next week and then South Carolina on the road after that.