Sunday ThingamaBob: MSU’s best and most needed win, with some big performances by coaches and backups

As soon as the game ended, Mississippi State fans everywhere thought, “Man, that felt good.”

The majority of the crowd at Davis Wade remained standing and cheering for almost the entire game, even though the game was clearly in hand with nearly the entire fourth quarter remaining.

They wanted a win, and they got one, taking down the Razorbacks 45-14. You can catch the full story, along with stats, photos, highlights and more here on HailState.com.

This was the win that was not only wanted, but needed.

MSU fans, players, coaches and even administration needed victory. They needed success and domination.

The best thing about being in a rut is the moment you get out of it.

They say it takes the bad days to make you fully appreciate the good ones. Surely, MSU would’ve preferred to not have any bad days in the first place, but after three-straight losses to divisional foes, crushing an SEC West rival – for the first time since Dan Mullen arrived – was a sweet elixir for the formerly-reeling Bulldogs.

And not just the fact it was a win, but such a convincing one. It seems fair to say, Saturday afternoon was the best game MSU has played all season. It took a little over a quarter to get going, but once MSU hit its stride, the Bulldogs outscored the Hogs 38-0.

The win, the blowout, the records set, the Senior Day celebrations, the beautiful weather, the team singing the Alma Mater with the student section,  the exciting turnovers and all the touchdowns flying through the air.

You’d be hard-pressed to draw up a more perfect afternoon for a team and fanbase that so desperately desired it.

And just in time, too, as it’s officially Egg Bowl week. Mullen’s team enters what he calls the most important game of the year at a time when they are coming off their best and most confidence-boosting performance of the season.

With the win, not only did MSU return to the top 25 polls, but it likely secured itself an upper-tier bowl, but more on that later.

The way Saturday went, the last three weeks may as well have not even happened.

So, let’s talk about Saturday.

  • The most impressive people in the game, to me, weren’t players. Mullen said it himself afterwards in the post-game press conference, and I’ll say it again here: absolutely tremendous job by the coaching staff with in-game adjustments. The first quarter and change went pretty horrendously for MSU, as the defense had no answer for Tyler Wilson and the offense just couldn’t move the ball after the first drive. Even with the Razorbacks just up 14-7, the mood of the stadium felt like one prepared to get blown out. Then, Chris Wilson changed up the defense, playing more man coverage, and Les Koenning got the offense rolling and it never stopped. As much as assistant coaches get criticism when something doesn’t go right, they deserve praise when everything does.
  • The two other things which got MSU back on track: turnovers and the running game.
  • In the opening streak of seven wins, MSU was first in the country in turnover margin and averaging well over 100 rushing yards per game. In the three losses, State was turning the ball over and never once passed 100 yards rushing. In their return to winning, MSU forced five turnovers, coming out plus-four on the day, and rushed for an impressive 203 yards.
  • And to say any game in which MSU rushes for over 100 yards is an automatic win would be foolish. It’s not just the rushing on its own, but the symbiotic relationship of the entire offense, the passing game playing just as significant a part. You can’t have one without the other. The trick is to get one going, at least for a short period, and then the gates open for the other. The better Tyler Russell passed, the better Perkins ran. The better Perkins and the gang ran, the better the passing game did. You get the point. Once the cycle starts, it builds on itself so long as the play-calling stays fresh, and it did on Saturday. MSU rushed the ball 36 times and passed it 34. Balance.
  • Another important development: the emergence of some young play-makers. Late in the season is when you want your youth to start making plays and showing signs. They won’t be depended on this season, but they may need to be next season or in seasons after. The confidence built up from making plays in big games, then being followed with the all-important bowl practices, is a massive springboard for young players as they develop in their careers and roles.
  • Sophomore linebacker Christian Holmes and freshman defensive tackle Nick James rushed onto the field in the first quarter for a short-yardage down, and my first thought was, “These guys don’t usually play so early.” We knew both had talent and promising futures, but they’re young. As the game went on, James played more and more and Holmes had one of MSU’s biggest plays, forcing a fumble in the third quarter, recovered by sophomore defensive end Preston Smith (another youngster), ending an Arkansas drive. Tyler Russell took the turnover and turned it into a touchdown, putting the game out of reach for Arkansas, a 14-point swing.
  • Sophmore corner Jamerson Love, who has played extensively this year, seems to be cementing his status as a starter next year after Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay graduate, getting his first interception Saturday, ending another Arkansas drive.
  • And how about Nick Griffin’s 60-yard touchdown run? MSU ran the option with Russell very well, and more often than we’ve seen, and the downfield blocking following Russell’s pitch was superb. Mullen said of Griffin after the game, “That’s the guy we recruited.” Griffin seems to have both his confidence and his legs back. With him and LaDarius Perkins, MSU has as strong of a backfield as it could want.
  • Speaking of Perkins, he is unstoppable on wheel routes. MSU has made an effort to get him more involved in the pass game over the second half of the season and it is paying big dividends. Both of his touchdowns Saturday came on wheel routes into the endzone, ran smoothly by him (with one absolutely tremendous catch) and thrown perfectly by Russell.
  • Russell and Dak Prescott, by the way, hit 10 different receivers against Arkansas. Double digits, including sophomores Robert and Malcolm Johnson and Jameon Lewis, plus freshman Joe Morrow. MSU even passed to a fullback again. Russell broke a near half dozen records, including single-season yardage and completions, as well as extending his touchdown record with another four scoring passes. He’s been outstanding.
  • That said, Russell has erred on the wrong side of the line a bit more lately when holding on to the ball. He’s stayed in the pocket for extended time all season, but lately he’s stayed a bit too long and he’s taken a fair few hits because of it. The offensive line hasn’t been perfect, either, so there’s blame to go around. But in a game where he threw four touchdowns and completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, I’m nit-picking.
  • Two more defenders who deserve credit: defensive end Denico Autry and cornerback Darius Slay. Autry has stepped his game up in a big way the last several weeks, registering a sack, a pass break-up and two quarterback hurries Saturday. Slay was particularly impressive, not just picking off a pass, but on his coverage of Hog star receiver Cobi Hamilton. MSU chose to have the speedy Slay follow Hamilton around, and nearly all of Hamilton’s 88 yards came against linebackers or safeties. In other words: people not named Darius Slay or Johnthan Banks.
  • As we wrap up, let’s talk bowl games real quick. Sitting at 8-3, MSU was already in a good spot when the final second ticked off the clock. But then, the BCS got shaken up pretty violently when both Oregon and Kansas State – the top two teams – lost in night games. While those outcomes took place west of the Mississippi, they all but assured the Southeastern Conference will get two teams into BCS games, meaning everyone else in the conference behind them moves up a spot. Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Texas A&M will most likely all be ahead of MSU in the bowl hierarchy, while South Carolina likely will be, too, though their game against Clemson this weekend could potentially change things. So, win or lose in the Egg Bowl, MSU likely seems destined for either Jacksonville or Atlanta. What I’m saying here is, I hope you enjoyed the Gator Bowl last time (I did), because it seems pretty likely MSU could end up in the Sunshine State again. And either way, I wouldn’t make any New Year’s Eve/Day plans just yet, unless they involve refundable hotel reservations in one of those two cities.

If MSU wins out, it will have double-digit wins and the best season in many, many years. Not just because MSU won so convincingly, there is much for State fans to be happy about.

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