By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Sporting new uniforms and playing on newly installed turf, Mississippi State let a lot of new faces get in on the act in Saturday’s season-opening 56-9 beatdown of Jackson State in front of 55,082 at Davis Wade Stadium.
The regular suspects performed as expected, with Tyler Russell passing for two touchdowns and tailback LaDarius Perkins scoring twice, as MSU built a big early lead. That allowed coach Dan Mullen to get several young players onto the field, including some true freshmen.
A total of 17 freshmen played Saturday night, and several of them had good moments. For instance, defensive tackle Nick James forced a fumble; receiver Joe Morrow had two catches for 24 yards; and tailback Derrick Milton had a team-high 65 rushing yards and scored on a 19-yard touchdown run late.
“We got a lot of guys some reps, got a lot of guys experience, a lot of guys played football for the first time,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “And there’s a little bit of everything we can go through and teach this week, and hopefully see a great improvement in our team between now and next Saturday’s SEC kickoff game.”
That would be MSU’s league opener next weekend against Auburn, which fell 26-19 to No. 14 Clemson on Saturday.
“A lot of starters didn’t play that much the second half, but we all know what we can do,” said Perkins, who had 50 yards on eight carries – all in the first half. “We know we can get the job done, and next week we’re going to have to play more plays than we played this week.”
It was Perkins’ first career multiple-touchdown game on the ground.
MSU finished with 377 total yards, with 194 of that on the ground. Russell was 15 of 23 for 175 yards and two scores before giving way to redshirt freshman Dak Prescott, who rushed for a touchdown.
Russell wasn’t entirely happy with his performance.
“There were some throws I should’ve made, and I didn’t,” Russell said. “That’s what frustrates me about coming in here and not completing those passes. Because you’re going to have to complete those against Auburn.
“I’m going to look at the film and evaluate myself, and we’ll take it from there.”
Russell accounted for MSU’s first touchdown of the season with a 9-yard strike to senior Chad Bumphis. After Perkins TD runs of 8 yards and 1 yard, Russell hit sixth-year senior Marcus Green for a 13-yard score.
Darius Slay’s 52-yard interception return for a score made it 35-0 with 2:32 left in the half. Matthew Wells later had a 22-yard interception return, marking the fourth time since 1990 that MSU has had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the same game.
Wells, a sophomore reserve linebacker, had a strong showing. He recorded a team-high five tackles and got his first career sack.
“Matt’s a very athletic, smart guy. Now he’s been in the program for a while, so we use him in a lot of different ways,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said.
Jackson State gained 265 total yards. Dedric McDonald passed for 136 yards and a touchdown for JSU, which is winless in two games against MSU.