By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
While MSU had only one play of 20-plus yards, it ran efficiently. The Bulldogs averaged 5.9 yards per play and scored on four of their first five possessions.
Coach Dan Mullen was pleased with the run-pass balance when the starters were in the game, and the final numbers were fairly even: 194 yards rushing, 183 passing.
There wasn’t much not to like about the season-opening win, but QB Tyler Russell expressed frustration at not making a handful of throws he thought he should’ve completed.
MSU gave up a 93-yard scoring drive with mostly backups on the field. That’s discouraging for a team that’s touted its depth, especially on defense.
Keys to victory
Evaluating the keys to victory in Saturday’s GameDay section:
Wear ’em down. MSU was the physically dominant team, but the game was out of hand before physical fatigue became a factor. Mentally and psychologically, though, 35 first-half points – including Darius Slay’s interception return for touchdown – and several dropped passes by JSU probably left the visitors feeling low.
MSU flashed its depth, getting several players into the game, including 17 freshmen.
Start fast. As noted, the Bulldogs scored early and often. The offense’s four first-half scoring drives averaged 8.3 plays, and MSU easily won the time-of-possession battle in the first half, 18:27 to 11:33.
The defense did its part, too, with Slay’s pick and forced punts on each of JSU’s first four possessions.
Don’t look ahead. MSU seemed focused on Jackson State instead of this weekend’s opponent, Auburn. The Bulldogs were crisp on both sides of the ball, spread the ball around on offense and got some critical game experience for newcomers that are expected to contribute.
Matthew Wells, a hybrid linebacker/safety, was all over the field Saturday. He had a team-leading five tackles, a sack, and a 22-yard interception return for touchdown.
MSU did what was expected in blowing out JSU, and now coaches and players will get in the film room to analyze what must be fixed or improved upon before Saturday’s home game versus Auburn (11 a.m., ESPN). It’s a huge game both for this season and within the broader context of Mullen’s tenure at MSU.