SEC: Vols-Bulldogs-101312

Bulldogs go out and take their respect

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
3:42
AM ET


STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Fittingly, senior offensive guard Tobias Smith was the last player out of the Mississippi State locker room late Saturday night.

With cowbells still clanging in the distance, he limped out wearing a smile as wide as his massive barrel chest.

Talk to coaches or players, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Smith is the heart and soul of this football team. He’s fought through injuries his entire career, including a nasty knee injury a year ago.

But he just keeps chugging along, a lot like the Bulldogs, who have been fighting for respect this entire season despite rising to No. 19 in the polls.

Their 41-31 victory over Tennessee should quiet some of the doubters, at least for now.

“That’s all we’ve been hearing, who we hadn’t played and how our schedule was soft,” said Smith, who left the game in the second quarter after re-injuring his knee, but returned for both of Mississippi State’s fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

“We have a lot of faith in each other and a lot of faith in our coaches, and we know what kind of team we are. We showed it tonight.”

Something else the Bulldogs showed (and have been showing all season) is that they’re learning how to win.

When they need a play, somebody’s there to make it.

“What’s happened for us is that in years past during big times in the game, everybody kind of looked around,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “This year, everybody’s like, ‘Give me the ball. I’m going to be the one to make the play.’

“It’s not just one guy, either.”

[+] EnlargeMississippi State's Tyler Russell
Spruce Derden/US PRESSWIRE]Mississippi State's Tyler Russell completed 23 of 37 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee.
Take your pick from Saturday.

There was Johnthan Banks’ strip of Tennessee running back Devrin Young on the sideline in the fourth quarter when it looked like the Vols might be putting together a drive to go ahead. The Bulldogs led 27-24 at the time and turned Banks’ big play into a touchdown three plays later.

“Hopefully, we’ll get the respect we deserve now, because our team’s for real,” Banks said.

On offense, the Bulldogs started fast, then hit a lull, but closed with a flurry.

Junior quarterback Tyler Russell passed for a career-high 291 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 12 touchdown passes this season and only one interception.

He was at his best in the game-clinching drive when he hit Chad Bumphis for 10 yards on a third-and-7 play. Russell had the presence to change the play at the line and went to his third option. Later in that same drive, he scrambled away from pressure and connected with Bumphis for 23 yards.

And on his final touchdown toss, he lofted one to the back of the end zone for a leaping Malcolm Johnson in the final seconds.

“Tyler missed some reads earlier and could have very easily gotten flustered, but he just stays calm and makes the plays he needs to,” Mullen said.

That’s been the trademark of this entire team, which is why Mullen didn’t fret during the first five games, when the Bulldogs tended to play down to their competition.

Coming into Saturday’s game, Mississippi State’s toughest test had probably come against Troy on the road. The Bulldogs’ other victims were Jackson State, South Alabama, Kentucky and Auburn, so it’s not exactly been a murderer’s row for Mississippi State.

That’s what made the Tennessee game so important.

“Our locker room was ridiculous,” Banks said. “Ya’ll can’t imagine what our locker room was like. This is the biggest win probably since I’ve been here.”

Now, we find out what Mississippi State does with it. This is the first time the Bulldogs have been 6-0 since 1999.

Up next is Middle Tennessee at home, and then comes a wicked stretch that begins with Alabama on the road. But a victory over Middle Tennessee would ensure a third consecutive winning season for the Bulldogs, and the last time that happened was 1997-2000, when they had four straight under Jackie Sherrill.

“We’re halfway,” Mullen said. “It’s been a great first half with a lot of football to play.”

That may be, but the Bulldogs have some doors open to them that haven’t been open for a long time.

“Four years ago, we went out and sold these kids on being able to build something special here in your home state of Mississippi,” Mullen said. “We’ve had 20 straight sellouts now. The atmosphere was unbelievable, and these kids believe in what we're doing, believe in themselves and believe in each other.

“It all shows out there on the field.”

Video: Miss. State OG Tobias Smith

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
2:17
AM ET


Chris Low talks to Mississippi State offensive guard Tobias Smith following the Bulldogs' 41-31 victory over Tennessee.

Instant analysis: Miss. State 41, Tenn. 31

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
12:48
AM ET


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.

Vols' Derek Dooley coaching from booth

October, 13, 2012
10/13/12
9:01
PM ET
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Tennessee coach Derek Dooley will be in the coaches’ booth in the press box Saturday night.

He underwent hip surgery on Tuesday and walked through the press box earlier on crutches. Instead of his customary orange pants and white pullover, he was wearing a suit.

Receivers coach Darin Hinshaw will run the Tennessee sideline on offense. Dooley and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will both be in the booth.

Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is always on the sideline.

This place is already loud. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen just reminded the crowd to ring their cowbells “responsibly,” but to be on their feet the whole game.

Welcome from Cowbell Central

October, 13, 2012
10/13/12
8:26
PM ET
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Talk about colors that clash.

Maroon and orange mix about as well as oil and water, which segues into what should be the matchup of the night: Tennessee’s passing game vs. Mississippi State’s secondary.

The Vols lead the SEC in passing offense at 329.2 yards per game. Quarterback Tyler Bray and his top two receivers, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, are all high on NFL draft lists for 2013.

They’ll go against a veteran Mississippi State secondary led by senior cornerback Johnthan Banks, who already has three interceptions this season. It’s not just Banks, though. Senior safety Corey Broomfield, senior cornerback Darius Slay and junior safety Nickoe Whitley have combined with Banks to intercept 37 career passes, and they’ve returned eight of those for touchdowns.

The cowbells are already clanging in what should be an electric atmosphere at Scott Field.

The No. 19 Bulldogs are bent on proving that they’re a legitimate top 25 team after a cushy schedule to this point. A win Saturday night opens up all sorts of possibilities for them this season.

For the Vols, they just need an SEC win, or it's an October that could really get ugly. They get Alabama next week at home and then South Carolina on the road the week after that.

Video: Miss.State-Tennessee pregame

October, 13, 2012
10/13/12
7:00
PM ET

Chris Low previews the Mississippi State-Tennessee game from Scott Field.

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