With Dan Mullen away tending to his wife and their new baby daughter, Mississippi State went through a 120-play scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium tonight. The defense emerged victorious for the second consecutive week, with cornerback Darius Slay recording three interceptions of Tyler Russell.
First, some numbers:
• The first-team offense had 13 possessions, scoring three touchdowns, a field goal, and committing three turnovers. The second team had 14 possessions, scoring just one touchdown with two turnovers.
• Russell completed 16 of 33 passes for 310 yards, a touchdown and the three interceptions. Backup Dak Prescott finished 13 of 27 for 154 yards and a pick.
• Running backs: LaDarius Perkins had 10 carries for 60 yards; Nick Griffin had 14 for 39; Josh Robinson had 13 for 25 and a 2-yard TD run; Derrick Milton had 8 for 38 and a tackle-breaking 16-yard scoring run.
• Tight end Malcolm Johnson had a great night, catching five passes for 110 yards. He caught a 27-yard TD from Russell on the scrimmage's opening possession, and his 42-yard grab down the left sideline set up Robinson's touchdown.
• Other receiving stats: Chad Bumphis 5 catches, 80 yards; Brandon Hill 6 for 75; Joe Morrow three for 103, and he had a nifty one-handed grab en route to an 83-yard TD from Russell.
So, Mullen was out, but the scrimmage ran as smoothly as any other. The eternal question in a situation like this is: Was the defense really that good, or is the offensive having troubles?
"They played good, but we had our opportunities," offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "That's what's upsetting. If we walked out of this game in an SEC deal, we'd be upset because of the opportunities. Give credit to the defense, they played well, but we've got to go and be able to take it consistently and move the football. We were erratic."
There were several pass break-ups, and Slay simply had Russell's number tonight. The senior is a backup corner but making a push for significant playing time.
During the first team's final possession, the offense was given 1:30 on the clock with one timeout, starting from its own 30. On the drive's fourth play, Russell was intercepted by Slay at the 46.
"Right there at the end he fooled me, and he dropped back, and I thought I had a big gain, and I saw him come out there and catch the pick," Russell said.
On another pick, Slay simply out-fought Arceto Clark for a deep ball down the sideline, managing to stay inbounds as the two tumbled to the turf.
I had the defense recording seven sacks, with Denico Autry looking aggressive and tough to handle. It's starting to click for the junior college transfer, who was a first-team All-American at East Mississippi CC last year.
"As the guy said, he is who we thought he is," defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. "He's that guy, and the one thing that makes him go is when he's not out there thinking, he makes us different. I don't always like to say better; I think it's an overused term. But he really makes us different."
Johnson, the sophomore tight end, has done nothing but impress since arriving at State. He was second on the team last season in yards per catch, and he averaged 22 per grab tonight. Johnson isn't your typical tight end, and he's a valuable weapon for Russell. They have a good thing going.
"That comes from hard work in the off time, in winter and spring, running routes and getting our timing down," Johnson said. "Hopefully in the summer we'll get better at it, so by the time the season comes we'll be a great dynamic duo."
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• CLICK HERE for Russell.
• CLICK HERE for Johnson.
• CLICK HERE for Slay.
• CLICK HERE for Wilson.