By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
MSU’s defense came out much more focused than it was the previous week against Troy. Few tackles were missed, South Alabama had trouble running the ball, and the Bulldogs came up with three turnovers.
Special teams play was especially good, from the coverage units to the return game to freshman kicker Devon Bell, who made all three of his field goal attempts.
State heads into its off week with a 4-0 mark.
The offense sputtered in the first quarter, gaining only one first down and punting four times. MSU had 27 total yards at that point, but it did put up 20 points in the second quarter.
Quarterback Tyler Russell had an off night, completing just 13 of 27 passes with an interception. It was the second consecutive week his completion rate was less than 50 percent.
Keys to victory
Evaluating the keys to victory in Saturday’s GameDay section:
1. Don’t get burned again. USA runs a very similar offense to that of Troy’s, but MSU had much better success in slowing it down this time. The Jaguars finished with 347 total yards, including just 104 in the first half.
South Alabama used two quarterbacks, and the best drive of the night against MSU’s first defense was directed by Ross Metheny, a 71-yard march to open the second half. MSU only allowed a 22-yard field goal.
2. Win the turnover battle: MSU has been stellar in this category all season. It won the turnover battle 3-1 on Saturday, with Johnthan Banks and Nickoe Whitley recording interceptions, and Chris Hughes recovering a fumble.
On the season, MSU has forced 15 turnovers and is plus-13 in turnover margin – it ranks first in the country in both categories. Banks has three interceptions, tied for the sixth in the country, while Darius Slay is tied for second with four.
3. Wear ’em down: After the slow start, State eventually found a bit of an offensive groove, and the offensive line dominated USA’s smaller defensive front. MSU gained 156 yards on the ground and averaged 4.2 yards per attempt.
On the other side, USA wasn’t so much worn down as simply stumped. MSU forced seven punts and didn’t allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.
Nickoe Whitley: The junior had not only the interception – which set up an MSU field goal – he recorded seven tackles and had a couple of the big hits he’s come to be known for.
MSU has plenty to iron out heading into this off week. It’s a good time to get healed up and prepare for an eight-week stretch that will feature seven SEC games.