By David Brandt/The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — Tyler Russell threw for 191 yards and three touchdowns, Johnthan Banks tied a school record with his 16th career interception and No. 15 Mississippi State pulled away in the second half to beat Middle Tennessee 45-3 on Saturday night.
Mississippi State (7-0) led just 10-3 at halftime, but scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to open a comfortable lead in the non-conference game. It was the ninth straight win for the Bulldogs, dating to last season.
LaDarius Perkins shook Mississippi State’s offense out of an extended drought midway through the third quarter, bursting through the middle of the line for a 64-yard touchdown to put the Bulldogs ahead 17-3. He finished with 125 yards rushing on 20 carries.
Mississippi State’s Chris Smith caught a career-high seven passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
Middle Tennessee (4-3) was led by Jordan Parker’s 66 yards rushing.
The Mississippi State victory sets up an undefeated conference showdown with No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., next weekend.
Middle Tennessee isn’t a big-name program, but it certainly had Mississippi State’s attention after crushing ACC-member Georgia Tech by three touchdowns on Sept. 29.
But the Blue Raiders couldn’t muster much of a challenge on Saturday.
The Bulldogs were sharp on their first drive, moving 74 yards on 14 plays, capped by Russell’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Smith for the 7-0 lead. They pushed that advantage to 10-0 later in the first quarter on a 32-yard field goal by Devon Bell.
But the offense bogged down in the second quarter and Middle Tennessee was able to cut the advantage to 10-3 after a 32-yard field goal by Carlos Lopez.
Mississippi State’s struggles continued until midway through the third quarter, when Perkins burst through the line for the 64-yard score. It was the longest touchdown run of his career, and it sparked the Bulldogs to what turned into an easy victory.
Perkins is one of just two running backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a rushing touchdown in every game this season.
Banks picked off a pass from Logan Kilgore in the third quarter and returned it to the MTSU 25-yard line. The interception tied the school mark set by Walt Harris. Banks has four interceptions this season.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior appeared to injure his knee after the play and didn’t return, though he walked off the field without any help.
Mississippi State was playing so well at that point, there was no need for Banks. Russell hit Smith on an 11-yard touchdown and later found Robert Johnson for a 23-yard score to stretch the Bulldogs’ lead to 31-3 by the end of the third quarter.
Russell continued his string of efficient performances. The junior has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only one interception this season.
Middle Tennessee was playing its first game without injured Benny Cunningham, who averaged 120 yards rushing and had scored 11 touchdowns through five games. Without him, the Blue Raiders couldn’t reach the end zone. They were outgained 446-305.
Kilgore completed 16 of 25 passes for 159 yards and one interception.
Middle Tennessee is 6-37 against teams from the six BCS conferences.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.