Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks (13) shows the ball after he recovered a fumble in the second half. The Bulldogs beat Tennessee 41-31 to stay unbeaten. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The No. 19 Mississippi State Bulldogs entered Saturday night with many doubters wondering just how good this team actually was.
Today MSU stands a perfect 6-0 after defeating Tennessee 41-31 in front of a packed house of 57,831 at Davis Wade Stadium.
The Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0) and Volunteers (3-3, 0-3) went toe-to-toe for much of the night with the Bulldogs having an answer each and every time the Vols would draw near, finally capping the scoring with nine seconds remaining on a Malcolm Johnson 9-yard touchdown catch from Tyler Russell.
The win gives MSU its sixth win of the season making State bowl eligible for the third consecutive season.
The game opened in similar fashion to the previous five with the Bulldogs striking early. State opened with an 8-play, 73-yard drive resulting in a Devon Bell 31-yard field goal, giving it the early 3-0 lead. The drive took all of 2:39 off the clock with the drive stalling at the Tennessee 14-yard-line.
The Vols quickly answered with their version of a high-powered offense marching down the field scoring on a Rajion Neal run from six yards out to take the 7-3 lead. The drive covered 75 yards and took 3:30 to run 10 plays.
Not wishing to play from behind, State gave Josh Robinson the opportunity for his first career touchdown on the Bulldogsâ€™ second possession with a 10-yard scamper which capped a 10-play 65-yard drive that took 5:42.
On Tennesseeâ€™s next position, the Bulldogs forced a three-and-out and after a 5-yard penalty and a 13-yard punt the Vols netted just 7 yards with State taking over at the UT 40-yard-line.
The Bulldogs went to work quickly moving into the red zone when Dak Prescott rushed for 6 yards and on the next play with the Vols expecting Prescott to once again rush the football, he hit a wide open Green for a 13-yard touchdown strike giving State the 17-7 lead.
However seconds later, Tennesseeâ€™s Cordarrell Patterson took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to draw within three at 17-14.
The Bulldogs answered with a 66-yard drive resulting in a Bell field goal from 24-yards out to take a 20â€“14 lead.
On Stateâ€™s next possession, Green returned to the end zone this time on a 7-yard pass from Russell to push the lead out to 27-14.
In the first half, Russell was 16-for-23 for 199 yards and a touchdown besting his counterpart Tyler Bray who was just 6-of-12 for 58 yards and an interception.
While the air attack for the Bulldogs was impressive, the running backs carried the ball 25 times for 81 yards in the first half with Robinson leading the way with 37 yards on five carries by the end of the half.
The Vols opened the second half with a scoring drive of 62 yards resulting in a 38-yard field goal from Michael Purdy. The drive was set up by an impressive display of athleticism by Patterson who reversed his field on a play Denico Autry had snuffed out and marched down the sideline before the final Bulldog, Darius Slay, pushed him out of bounds.
After a three-and-out for MSU, Tennessee closed the MSU lead to just three points with a Patterson touchdown reception on a pass from Bray.
In the third quarter, the Tennessee offense got things rolling with 183 yards of total offense, while the Bulldogs struggled due to the absence of Tobias Smith who was hobbled in the first half.
With the Vols digging out of a deep hole trailing by just three points, Johnthan Banks made arguably the play of the game when he stripped Devrin Young and recovered the fumble setting the table for Ladarius Perkins to extend the MSU lead from 2 yards out to 34â€“24.
However, after a costly personal foul penalty Tennessee began its next possession with great field position and quickly struck for a touchdown to once again close the gap to three points at 34-31 with 5:22 remaining.
Needing to control the football and run out the clock, Russell and company went to work matriculating the ball down the field 75 yards on 12 plays using up 5:13 off the clock to give the game its final score.
For the game, Mississippi State amassed 450 yards of total offense while holding Tennessee to 361 yards.
Russell threw for 291 yards and two scores on a 23-for-37 effort. Bray on the other hand completed just 13 passes for 148 with two touchdowns and an interception.
On the ground, Perkins eclipsed the century mark once again with 102 yards on 23 carries and a score.
Chad Bumphis shouldered the load in receiving for the Bulldogs with seven catches for 93 yards, while Green caught six passes for 71 yards and two scores.
Mississippi State now turns its attention to Middle Tennessee State, which faces the Bulldogs next Saturday with a 6 p.m. scheduled kick.
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