By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
LEXINGTON, Ky. – It was not the easiest of days for Tyler Russell, but he toughed it out to keep No. 20 Mississippi State rolling.
He missed some easy passes and took several hard licks, but Russell was better than his last outing, completing 23 of 39 passes – both season highs – for 269 yards and two touchdowns in MSU’s 27-14 win at Kentucky on Saturday.
The junior was a big reason the Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) converted on 10 of 18 third downs (55.6 percent). Last time out, two weeks ago against South Alabama, Russell was often off the mark.
He remained critical of himself after Saturday’s game.
“When you miss the little (throws), they kind of get under your skin,” Russell said, “and you’re like, man, I’m too good of a quarterback, and our team is too good, to miss those little throws like that. …
“We’re going to come back Monday and work on it.”
His favorite target was senior Chad Bumphis, who had nine catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. His 27-yard score in the third quarter gave MSU a 27-7 lead at the 12-minute, 43-second mark.
It was a good start to a solid second half for Russell, who completed 7 of 11 passes for 92 yards the rest of the way.
“It shows a lot about him and how tough he is,” Bumphis said. “You kind of expect it because if you watch him in the offseason and see how much he puts into it then he going to go out there and fight with everything he has.”
Kentucky cut it to 27-14 in the third quarter on quarterback Jalen Whitlow’s 3-yard run, then recovered an onside kick. But Josh Boyd’s sack on third down killed that momentum.
The Wildcats never recaptured it.
“We took it to heart that they tried to do that to us, so we just took it upon ourselves to go out and try to play the best possession we played all game,” Boyd said.
MSU held Kentucky to 228 total yards, including just 84 rushing. The Wildcats were 5 of 15 on third downs.
For the first time this season, MSU didn’t force a turnover, and it lost a fumble in the fourth quarter. State entered the game at plus-13 in turnover margin, tops in the country.
“We had at least seven or eight three-and-outs, so it put the offense in good field position a lot, and we were out there competing,” cornerback Darius Slay said.
MSU recorded three sacks.
State gained 427 total yards, and LaDarius Perkins led the ground game with 110 yards on a career-high 25 carries. His 31-yard touchdown dash in the first quarter gave State a 14-0 edge.
After gaining just 4 yards on its first two possessions, Kentucky turned to highly touted freshman Patrick Towles, who capped an 80-yard scoring drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass to La’Rod King.
That cut MSU’s lead to 14-7. Towles was 5 of 5 for 71 yards on the drive, but it was the lone highlight of his day, which was cut short by a sprained ankle late in the first half on a sack by Denico Autry.
Starter Jalen Whitlow completed 10 of 21 passes for 73 yards.
“There were a couple of good things, but too many bad things,” Whitlow said. “I left a lot of plays out on the field today.”
Devon Bell hit a 20-yard field goal and then added a 37-yarder at the end of the half for a 20-7 lead. At that point, MSU had out-gained Kentucky 278-90 in total offense.