Grading the Bulldogs: What worked, what didn't in Week 1 win over Louisiana
Mississippi State started out slowly but ended with a bang, erupting for 17 second-half points and pulling away from Louisiana 38-28 to win the opening game of the season at the Louisiana Superdome.
It was a big day for running back Kylin Hill, who rushed for 197 yards on 27 carries and added a touchdown. He was unstoppable, averaging 7.3 yards a carry. It wasn’t a perfect outing for the Bulldogs, as there were a few mistakes to correct.
Leading 35-14, the Bulldogs gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and must be able to close games like this out.
The win is all that matters. With the opening game for so many teams featuring a ton of unknowns, you do what you can just to get to Week 2. Mississippi State did just that and will face Southern Miss next week in Starkville.
Quarterback Tommy Stevens had a solid opening game as the starting quarterback, completing 20 of 30 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Those numbers will win a lot of games for Mississippi State. But Stevens’ most important role of the day was handing the ball to Hill.
The offense will be run through Hill, and rightfully so. The offensive line is a veteran group and will be leaned upon for opening lanes for Hill. It was a roaring success in New Orleans.
As for Stevens’ targets, wide receiver Osirus Mitchell got the memo that he needed to step up. He led all receivers with six receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown. A bright spot for the Bulldogs was sophomore wide receiver Austin Williams. The Ocean Springs, Miss., native hauled in three passes for 43 yards and the other passing touchdown.
If Mississippi State continues to be balanced on offense, it will be fine. If Hill continues to rush for close to 200 yards a night, Stevens will have receivers running free all season.
The Bulldogs gave up a few big plays to the Ragin’ Cajuns late in the game but were able to lean on the offense for help. They were able to hold the running attack of Raymond Calais and Trey Ragas to 143 yards.
The turnovers were key as well. The Bulldogs, under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, created five in the way of three fumbles and two interceptions. To no one’s surprise, defensive backs Maurice Smitherman and Cameron Dantzler were the recipients of the INTs.
Louisiana was able to break multiple tackles, an area of concern for Mississippi State. One player who doesn’t need any pointers is linebacker Erroll Thompson, who accounted for 10 tackles, nine solo. Thompson is a machine who directs the MSU defense. As long as he’s on the field, the Bulldogs will be in good shape.
A name many might be surprised to see is Jaquarius Landrews. The senior safety finished with eight tackles and was all over the field. Safety C.J. Morgan and Dantzler finished with six tackles each.
Special Teams: B
Placekicker Jordan Lawless filled in for suspended kicker Jace Christmann and finished 1-for-2. He connected on a 37-yard effort and missed a 27-yard chip shot.
Field goals have been an adventure in Starkville the past few seasons, to say the least.
Tucker Day had a nice day punting, averaging 40 yards a kick, while Malik Dear led all returners with a big 40-yard punt return.
“We talked about the possibility of a 200-yard game today in pregame meal. He fell a little short of that, but he’s one of the best running backs in the SEC.” — Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead on Hill.
“I’m really proud of the offensive line. They paved the way the whole game. They didn’t bat an eye when people went down.” — MSU quarterback Tommy Stevens
Mississippi State returns to Starkville and faces in-state foe Southern Miss at 2:30 on ESPNU. The Golden Eagles started the season with a 38-10 win over Alcorn State.