Published October 10, 2011 - 3:58pm
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After playing one half of football on Saturday, Mississippi State headed into the locker room trailing UAB by a score of 3-0. Head coach Dan Mullen needed to find a way to spark his sluggish offense, so he made the decision to send sophomore quarterback Tyler Russell out to begin the second half, in place of starter Chris Relf.
Mullen definitely found the spark he was looking for.
With Russell at the helm, the Bulldogs responded with three unanswered touchdowns in the second half and came away with a 21-3 victory over the Blazers. Being able to balance out their record at 3-3 was important for MSU, who also left Legion Field with a much needed dose of confidence. Saturday’s performance was the best by their offense since a trip to Auburn in week two.
Here’s a closer look at what transpired for the Bulldogs in Birmingham over the weekend:
Tyler Russell Stole The Show – We’ve seen Russell take snaps before, but never for an entire half. Until Saturday, he mainly saw action as a “clean up” guy at the end of games. He had also been thrown in at other times to create a spark on offense, usually unsuccessfully.
However, this was a different situation. Russell was handed the reigns at halftime and looked very much the part of a man in charge, completing 11 of 13 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns. He spread the ball around nicely, hitting Chad Bumphis, Malcolm Johnson and tightend Marcus Green for scores. Russell’s longest pass was to Bumphis, who trotted 57 yards to the endzone after making the grab.
There’s no doubt that UAB’s defense pales in comparison to most of those in the SEC, but Russell’s poise in the pocket was impressive, nonetheless. He stood strong and delivered the ball in the face of pressure on several occasions, taking some big hits in the process. Russell, who was courted by the likes of Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier prior to signing with MSU, gave Bulldog fans a glimpse of why he was considered a major recruit in 2009.
The Defense Didn’t Disappoint – Defensive Coordinator Chris Wilson seemed to turn things around after the Auburn game and his unit kept up the momentum on Saturday. State held UAB to 340 yards of offense, with the Blazer’s only points coming from a field goal late in the second half.
The most impressive thing defensively, though, was the fact that UAB ‘s offense never traveled beyond MSU’s 19 yard line. Obviously, the most effective form of red-zone defense is not allowing your opponent in the red-zone at all. The Bulldogs managed to do just that for the vast majority of Saturday’s matchup.
It’s also worth noting that, thanks to a forced fumble and a Johnthan Banks interception, State was able to win the turnover battle 2-0.
Ballard Returns – Senior running back Vick Ballard never left the team, technically, but his performance in Birmingham sure felt like a homecoming to the Maroon Nation. After being held in check the past few weeks, Ballard exploded with 101 yards of rushing on 19 carries against UAB. He also added 24 receiving yards on two catches.
Ballard’s success was aided by the insertion of James Carmon at left guard at the beginning of the third quarter. Carmon, who has been banged up for most of the year and sat out the first half of the contest, requested to get the start after halftime. Mullen said that blocking along the offensive line improved tremendously after that point.
Key Stat – MSU only managed to find 118 yards of offense in the first half, but racked up 298 yards in the second.
Looking Ahead – South Carolina will be coming to Starkville this weekend, fresh off a 54-3 pounding of Kentucky. It will be the Bulldog’s first meeting with the Gamecocks since the 2007 season.
With Dan Mullen refusing to name a starting quarterback thus far, and choosing to keep Relf and Russell away from the media, it’s sure to be an eventful week in Starkville. State has a week off after this game and would certainly like to head into the break with it’s first SEC win of the year.
Later this week, we’ll preview MSU’s matchup with South Carolina.