MSU players Wade Bonner (7), Johnthan Banks (13) and Fletcher Cox (94) celebrate Saturday's victory over UT Martin. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
By LEE ADAMS
The Mississippi State Bulldogs got back to their power running game.
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It was because of the run that the Bulldogs got started against the UT Martin Skyhawks Saturday night, then the rest of the offense followed in production.
MSU got 288 rushing yards on running backs and quarterback runs and accounted for four touchdowns. It also picked up three touchdown through the air and threw for 282 yards, and head coach Dan Mullen was happy to get the win.
"Wins are hard to come by and that's a good win," said Mullen. "Here it is November and we have a winning record and it's a good direction for where we want our program to be."
State, now 5-4 overall, might have blown the Skyhawks out on the scoreboard but not the same can be said for yardage.
UT Martin rushed for 269 yards, which irritated Mullen and have him even say that he was "embarrassed" as the Bulldogs carried a 28-3 lead into halftime.
"I didn't like anything," said Mullen. "We were giving up yard after yard on defense and we didn't adjust or make plays. Offensively we made a couple of big plays but we were sloppy. I wasn't real happy with how we were playing and we were not as clean as I want us to be."
Although he wasn't the happiest with his team's play, Mullen did notice they did what it took to get the win.
"I think our guys made some plays," said Mullen. "We spread the ball around and different guys got to touch it and do some different things, but at times, there was some sloppiness that I want to look at, but our kids made plays when they needed to and that was good."
One of the biggest playmakers for the Bulldogs on Saturday night was senior running back Vick Ballard. Ballard had struggled as of late and hadn't found the end zone since MSU's overtime win over Louisiana Tech. Against the Skyhawks, Ballard found the end zone again and found it twice, one of which was on a long 54-yard run down the sideline.
"I haven't had a long one like that since the Memphis game," said Ballard. "It felt good to get back into the end zone. It was like a breath of fresh air."
Ballard finished the night with 102 yards on 11 carries, but some of his fellow backs got big yardage as well which he saw as a good thing.
"Like I always say, when the whole (backfield) is doing good everything is better," said Ballard.
Freshman Nick Griffin, who Mullen said is probably not 100 percent yet from his knee surgery around six months ago, was second behind Ballard in rushing yards on Saturday night as he ran the ball 10 times for 80 yards and picked up his first career touchdown. Griffin was happy to get his first touchdown, which came from 5 yards out, but was more excited that redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Favre scored his first career touchdown as well.
"I think I was more excited about that than (Dylan) was," said Griffin. "I know he's been hungry to get one just like I was."
The feeling seemed to be mutual from Favre, who scored his first career touchdown on a 12-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
"It feels good every time you get in the end zone," said Favre. "I was actually happier to see Nick get into the end zone since he's coming off the knee injury and he's one of the most humble kids you'll meet."
As for the other quarterbacks, Tyler Russell and Chris Relf produced three touchdowns threw the air, two of which came from Relf connecting with Arceto Clark, who had five catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
Russell picked up his third consecutive start, but wasn't happy with his play and Mullen said Russell's play was "sloppy at times."
"I don't think I played up to par this game," said Russell. "We have a lot of stuff to work on and we were fortunate to put up some points, but we got Alabama next week and we have to step it up."
With the Crimson Tide, who are coming off an overtime loss to LSU, coming to Starkville next week, the Bulldogs will have to fix their rush defense who seemed to struggle with stopping UT Martin running back Jason McNair, who ran for 126 yards, but defensive coordinator Chris Wilson is happy to pick up the win on Saturday.
"With three games left in the season, it was good to get us back on a winning note," said WIlson. "The big thing is we have to keep improving. If we want to continue to win football games with the competition we are about to play, we have to be on point and execute at a high level to get us where we want to get to."
After the dust settled and the Bulldogs had earned their 11 consecutive non-conference win, Mullen changed his opinion slightly on the performance of his team.
"We played a decent game tonight," said Mullen. "Give UT Martin a lot of credit, they played well, they made a lot of plays and put up a ton of yards, but we have to get a lot better and we have some things we have to improve on before next week's game against Alabama."