By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
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STARKVILLE – Dan Mullen still hasn’t gotten the complete game he’s been wanting, but at least he’s still getting wins.
His No. 23-ranked Mississippi State team took home a comfortable 30-10 victory over South Alabama in front of 55,186 at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday night, but the fourth-year coach was not happy with his offense’s performance, particularly in the first half.
The Bulldogs (4-0) punted on each of their first four possessions, gaining just 27 total yards and one first down in the first quarter.
It was the second consecutive week in which MSU had some disturbing offensive lapses. It scored only one second-half touchdown in the second half of a 30-24 win over Troy last weekend.
“We still haven’t played our complete game yet in all three phases,” Mullen said. “Fortunately, though, every time we’ve stepped on the field we’ve played two of three, and that’s been enough for us to win.”
MSU gained 356 total yards, with 200 of that passing. Tyler Russell was 13 of 27 for 171 yards and no TDs and wasn’t his usually sharp self. He was not made available to the media after the game.
LaDarius Perkins led the ground attack with 69 yards and a score on 11 carries.
MSU has scored 154 points this season, its most by this point in a season since totaling 159 in 1944. But there are offensive issues that concern Mullen greatly heading into a bye week.
“Tyler was making bad reads, we weren’t throwing the ball very well,” Mullen said. “The offensive line – just sloppy. And some on us (coaches). We had some bad play calls.
“Everything, to me, was what you don’t want to do. When you get in these games, you should win this game, you want to come out and play sharp and play crisp. We didn’t do that in the first half at all.”
Perkins ripped off a 44-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 edge early in the second quarter. That 70-yard drive took only three plays and 1:17 off the clock.
State eventually built a 20-0 halftime lead, but it could’ve been more. On two drives that began inside USA’s 30, the Bulldogs settled for a pair of Devon Bell 42-yard field goals.
USA opened the second half with a long drive, but MSU stiffened at the 5 and yielded a 22-yard field goal. After a 49-yard kickoff return by Jameon Lewis, MSU’s offense covered 50 yards in five plays, with Russell scoring on a 1-yard sneak for a 27-3 lead.
MSU’s defense had a much better night than it did the week before, when it allowed 572 yards. South Alabama, running a version of the spread very similar to Troy’s, finished with 347 yards, including 123 rushing.
Nickoe Whitley and Johnthan Banks both had interceptions, with Whitley’s coming two plays after Russell was picked off in the second quarter in a 17-0 game.
MSU was much stronger in the tackling department this week after missing 22 of them against Troy. Benardrick McKinney had a team-high eight tackles, while Whitley and Deontae Skinner had seven apiece.
“We played with an edge tonight, because last week we were pitiful,” Banks said. “We didn’t really play good, but we played good enough to hold them to three points.”
South Alabama got its touchdown late against MSU’s reserves.