Mississippi State Bulldogs
Final Record: 8-4 overall, 4-4 SEC
Mississippi State had a chance in 2012 to make some real noise, not only within the conference and division, but in the rest of the country as well. And that started to take shape with the 7-0 start and ranked just outside of the top 10. Even then, though, MSU fans thought they were getting shafted with little respect because ‘they were 7-0 and undefeated in the SEC’. Undefeated records don’t just automatically bring you hype, and to most, Mississippi State still failed to pass the eye test, even at 7-0.
Entering 2012, MSU had an experienced defense, productive running game, and enough veteran wide receivers on the roster for both them and Ole Miss, but they were turning their spread offense over to a new quarterback in Tyler Russell, who was much different than Chris Relf. But Russell turned out to be a great decision maker and a hell of passer, throwing for 2,791 yards and 22 touchdowns. His completion percentage numbers should have been higher (59.8 percent), but he didn’t turn the football over – only six interceptions. He was accurate, decisive and confident in just his first year as a starting quarterback.
LaDarius Perkins ran the football with authority, and he almost tipped the 1,000-yard mark in the regular season. He finished with 940 yards and eight touchdowns, and he should surpass that mark in the bowl game. Backups Josh Robinson and Nick Griffin provided a changeup to Perkins as well.
Russell had a bevy of receivers to get the football to in space. Senior receiver Chad Bumphis had his best season as a Bulldog, catching 55 passes for 904 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was the only Bulldog who scored in double figures, and he topped off his strong career with another huge season. Other receivers Chris Smith, Arceto Clark, Robert Johnson and tight ends Marcus Green and Malcolm Johnson also notched touchdowns, and Green led them with six.
The Bulldogs’ defense figured to be a staple of success, especially with four veterans – three seniors – in the secondary and senior linebacker Cam Lawrence. Corners Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, combined with Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley, made for a very veteran and battle-tested secondary. Slay emerged as the second starter opposite Banks during preseason camp. Banks and Slay combined to form a formidable one-two punch with nine interceptions. Lawrence led the team in tackles with 111 total, 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions. His athletic ability – and face paint –was the heart and soul of the defense. Freshman linebacker Benardrick McKinney had a breakout year with 97 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He’s going to be a serious linebacker and a leader in the next two years. With tackle Quay Evans and Mckinney, this defense has a great nucleus of young players to build their defense around for next few years.
The Bulldogs started the season strong by winning their first seven games but finished losing four of their last five, including the state championship Egg Bowl. The Rebels, not the Bulldogs, enter prime recruiting season with all the momentum after MSU dominated the state the previous three years. As the last five games revealed, the 7-0 start had more to do with the weak schedule, but credit Mullen and the staff for taking care of business those first seven games.
Offensive Stud: Looking into the crystal ball before this season started, several questions surrounded Tyler Russell. Would Dan Mullen try and use him the same way he used bruiser Chris Relf? Could Russell live up to the glimpses we saw the last couple of years as the primary passer? Mullen turned the keys over to Russell, and he threw for 2,791 yards and 22 touchdowns. But he can get better, and he’s nowhere near the finished product yet. The bad news is his cast of receivers will be absent next season.
Defensive MVP: The face of the Mississippi State defense is corner Johnthan Banks. The newly crowned Thorpe Award winner turned in another great season in Starkville. Banks picked off four passes and was sixth in passes defended. He’s received a lot of national pub in his senior season, and his big day will come this spring in the NFL Draft. It’s been a great career for Banks at MSU, and his story is even better.
Where To Next: Mississippi State has a date with the #20 Northwestern Wildcats in the Gator Bowl. State has lost four of their last five and doesn’t enter with any kind of mo-mo, but a layoff before the bowl could actually help. Maybe it will clear the mind and get the Bulldogs focused to finish what they started in September.
Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE