Rapid reaction: Turnovers, special teams lead Mississippi State to Armed Forces Bowl win over Tulsa
It all started great for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs went down in three plays and scored on a quick 39-yard scoring drive capped by a Jo’Quavious Marks, who had a 28-yard touchdown less than two minutes into the game. Then the sputtering began, and the Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa turned into a slug fest.
Against the 3-7 Bulldogs, the Golden Hurricane came to bowl season coming off a 27-24 loss to undefeated Cincinnati on a field goal on the final play in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
But in a promising sign for the future, every MSU touchdown was delivered by a true freshman in a 28-26 victory to end the season with win No. 4.
Tulsa struggled to finish drives for much of the game, and had two interceptions by the MSU defense inside the 15-yard line, including a pick by Tyrus Wheat at his own 3-yard line which helped ice the game. It ended a 13-play drive and came on third and goal with about three minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs had four sacks in the first half alone, and six tackles for a loss, as they bogged down the Tulsa offense, and forced two field goals, while they also stalled two other drives. But it was largely a snoozefest on offense for both sides in rainy Fort Worth, Texas.
The second half delivered more excitement, especially from the MSU defense.
Emmanuel Forbes made the first turnover in the game with his fifth interception of the season with 3:29 left in the third quarter, and he returned it for a 90-yard touchdown as the Pick Six was initially wiped out by an illegal block, but later reviewed and stood. It was his third Pick Six of the season. That continued a string of big plays for the Bulldogs to start the second half.
In continuing a theme from throughout the game, Lideatrick Griffin had a kickoff returned for a touchdown called back by penalty. But by that point midway through the third quarter, Griffin had averaged 35 yards per kickoff return with a long of 53.
Griffin made his pitch to be MVP of the game with a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Will Rogers
The Forbes touchdown, which followed the Griffin big play, helped stem the tide from Tulsa briefly grabbing momentum to answer Rogers’ third quarter TD from 13 yards out. Deneric Prince scored Tulsa’s touchdown in the third quarter, but Forbes’ pick ended what appeared to be a promising drive for the Golden Hurricane.
Special teams then took a bad turn for MSU late in the third quarter.
MSU punter Tucker Day appeared to scrape his kicking foot on the ground as he went to punt, and then barely nicked the ball on the upswing. It resulted in a punt that went for zero yards at the MSU 32-yard line. MSU trainers came on the field to check on Day, who sat with his legs crossed for several minutes after the play.
It was an unusual play for Day, who otherwise was solid for the Bulldogs. For the game, Day had four punts that averaged 29.5 yards, including a long of 44 yards and two downed inside the 20-yard line.
Tulsa took advantage with a touchdown on the ensuing drive, but the Golden Hurricane missed a two-point conversion attempt, so Mississippi State held a narrow 21-19 lead with 12:30 remaining. The next wild special teams sequence came when JaVonta Payton nearly let a kickoff die near the goal line, but the ball, fortunately for him, bounced out of bounds and Tulsa was flagged to give MSU the ball at the 35-yard line.
Rogers faced a decent test against a strong Tulsa defense. In five starts for MSU, Rogers set a freshman school record with 1,828 yards and 220 completions, including a school-record 45 completions in a 31-24 loss in the Egg Bowl. A Tulsa defense that ranks in the top 30 nationally in several categories was without AAC defensive player of the year Zaven Collins.