To use the best coachspeak I can: a win is a win.
It was ugly (most of the time) but Mississippi State is 3-0 and ranked No. 23 in both the AP Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll after beating the Trojans of Troy 30-24.
To be honest, it’s a bit surprising MSU is ranked already, but it certainly isn’t undeserved. Apparently votes see the same potential many of us around the team have seen, not to mention the unblemished record including an SEC West win.
That, to me, is one of the bigger, though under-the-radar storylines exiting week three.
We still haven’t seen the Bulldogs at their best.
To review: MSU’s starters were nearly all on the bench by the midway point of third quarter against Jackson State. Dan Mullen’s team looked very good against Auburn, but the score could’ve easily been much more impressive, perhaps in the neighborhood of 45-3, were it not for MSU miscues. Then last night, of course, we all know the story. The Bulldog defense allowed 572 total yards and MSU’s receivers dropped a good half dozen passes, yet State still managed a win in a tough road game.
No team ever plays perfect all game, every game, to be sure, but MSU has plenty of room to improve. Luckily, the schedule sets up well for it, as we discussed ad nauseum in the preseason. After South Alabama next Saturday and an off-week the following weekend, MSU plays seven sec games in eight weeks, including five straight western division opponents to end the 2012 regular season.
The Bulldogs have a short period to fine-tune some loose bolts on both sides of the ball before the SEC gauntlet begins.
The key for MSU will be to avoid another dangerous letdown and deal with, as Mullen puts it, the adversity of success, now the Bulldogs are ranked.
Moving on, some thoughts and observations from MSU’s victory over Troy.
- Against Auburn, Chris Wilson’s defense looked like it knew what was coming before every snap. At Troy, the Bulldogs seemed surprise on almost every play. Granted, Troy runs a fast-paced offense, but it didn’t look good.
- The biggest concern was MSU’s run defense, perhaps exacerbated by State starting the game in a 3-4 defense, as Troy’s leading rusher (Southward) racked up 137 yards and averaged 6.8 per carry, while the second-stringer checked in at 5.2 yards per carry. Those are not good numbers, particularly considering Troy had injuries on the offensive line.
- The pass defense was hit-or-miss, as the Trojans hardly ever threw in the direction of All-American corner Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay picked off two passes. That was the hit. The miss? Troy had a lot of open receivers and quarterback Corey Robinson completed 71 percent of his 45 passes for 343 yards. Backups Jamerson Love, Taveze Calhoun and even true freshman Cedric Jiles played much more than usual, but not always with great results, particularly Love, who got burned a few times.
- Slay, though, deserves tons of credit, and should be honored or considered for plenty of defensive player of the week awards after the two interceptions, a pass break-up, a muffed punt recovery and six tackles, not to mention his generally superb special teams play.
- Someone on Twitter asked me if Banks and Slay are the top cornerback duo in the country. I don’t know much about too many rosters outside the SEC, but I have to believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a pair of shutdown corners in America better than MSU’s Banks and Slay.
- Cam Lawrence deserves some recognition, as well, as the senior linebacker was all over the place, racking up 13 tackles, one shy of his personal-best 14.
- One of the best things MSU did all day was get big plays, forcing four turnovers.
- Call me Captain Obvious here, but were it not for those turnovers, we’d be talking about a very different game. Troy’s offense was clicking outside of those mistakes, only being forced to punt three times in 12 possessions.
- Another great stat: the Bulldogs turned three of those four turnovers into points, getting 20 of their 23 first half points off Troy miscues. Last week against Auburn: State didn’t get a single score off of their five forced turnovers.
- Offensively, it was a kind of weird game. MSU never seemed to get in a real rhythm, due in large part to the many dropped passes by receivers. Mullen said he saw seven when talking to us media folk after the game, which is pretty significant. Those dropped passes both stalled drives and prevented a few would-be touchdowns. For that reason, Mullen said it’s tough to judge quarterback Tyler Russell’s numbers.
- Russell completed 42 percent of his passes, 11-of-26 for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Give him those seven dropped passes? His completion percentage jumps to 69 and he likely gets another 125-ish yards and two or three touchdowns. It’s not that simple, obviously, but you get the idea.
- Russell still hasn’t thrown an interception this year.
- Russell only had 64 passing yards to people not named Chad Bumphis.
- Oh, and holy wow, Chad Bumphis. What a game. The senior receiver is now tied for first in MSU history with 17 receiving touchdowns (Eric Moulds and Justin Jenkins are the others) after catching six passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns Saturday evening.
- One thing I liked: MSU took a lot of shots deep. Bumphis’ shortest TD catch was 25 yards, while the other two went for 72 and 58. Chris Smith had a 45-yard reception of his own and there were several more would-be big-gainers that ended up being dropped, including one deep down the right sideline by 6’5” freshman Joe Morrow.
- You may have noticed senior right guard Tobias Smith neither started nor played last night, though I’m told he could’ve played if absolutely necessary. Mullen and the staff felt comfortable with Justin Malone, who filled in admirably. Allowing MSU to get several big runs up the middle.
- Speaking of big runs and huge individual games, how ‘bout LaDarius Perkins? LDP looked absolutely outstanding as he racked up a career-high 179 yards on 23 carries. Does anyone still question if he can be an every-down back? I sure don’t
- Perkins is averaging exactly seven yards per carry this season, with a total of 46 rushes through three games.
- Another note: last night was the first time in MSU history it had both a receiver and running back go for 175+ yards in the same game.
- Again: just imagine if MSU’s offense ever hits on all cylinders.
In summation: plenty to be happy with if you’re an MSU fan, and plenty to critique if you’re into such things. Most importantly, the Bulldogs won.
As Chris Wilson said after the game, “Who’s to say two or three years ago we don’t lose this game?”
He’s right. Credit to MSU for finding a way to win a sneakily-tough road game in which it didn’t play particularly well.