STARKVILLE – There was a small hitch in Dan Mullen’s plans, but things still went off pretty much as he’d hoped.
After lightning delayed kickoff for 32 minutes, Mullen made his debut as Mississippi State head coach and saw his Bulldogs earn a 45-7 win over Jackson State on Saturday in front of 54,232 fans, third most to ever see a game at Davis Wade Stadium.
When the teams got sent back inside before kickoff, the Bulldogs simply refocused and stayed loose.
“You get that adrenaline rush, you build up, and we worked all day, I planned to peak at the moment when we go take that field and get ready to get after somebody,” Mullen said. “And to be told as soon as you’re at that peak, you have to jog it back in and sit around for another half-an-hour, was a little bit frustrating.”
Maybe it was that, maybe it was a wet field, maybe it was nerves, or maybe it was just because this is a new coach with a new offense.
Whatever it was, MSU was slow out of the gate but picked it up in the second half to put away the Tigers of the SWAC, members of the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
State held a 14-0 halftime lead but scored 21 in the third quarter with the aid of a couple of JSU turnovers.
“We came out, we were all pumped up, then when we got on the field we had to go back in,” said receiver Leon Berry. “That probably slowed us up a little bit, but we finished up strong.”
After a Charles Mitchell interception of ex-Bulldog QB Trae Rutland, Robert Elliott ran it in from 7 yards for a 21-0 lead, and then a Rutland fumble led to Marcus Green’s 19-yard touchdown catch from Chris Relf.
And that was that.
There are some growing pains to be expected as Mullen installs the offense he brought from Florida, so he was glad to see the kind of strong defensive effort he noted before he arrived here.
Of MSU’s five touchdown drives, three started inside midfield, and another covered just 51 yards. Jackson State finished with 194 total yards, including just 62 on the ground, and committed five turnovers.
“Mississippi State’s played great defense as long as I ever remember watching college football and watching games and watching Mississippi State play,” Mullen said. “And that’s never gonna change under what we’re gonna do here, under my regime. We will be a great defensive team, we will build ourselves around defense here.”
Still, some sloppy offensive play irked Mullen, who saw several sizable Bulldog gains negated by penalties, including what would’ve been a 19-yard touchdown run by Christian Ducré in the second quarter. Ducré also lost two fumbles.
MSU’s first points of the season came on a 15-yard catch and run by freshman Chad Bumphis from Relf with 9:12 left in the first quarter.
That score capped a 24-yard drive, which was set up by the first of two botched punt snaps by JSU.
Relf scored the next touchdown on a 5-yard run on fourth-and-1 for a 14-0 edge 48 seconds before halftime.
Relf and Tyson Lee, last year’s starter, split duties. Lee sat out the second half with shoulder spasms.
MSU gained 359 total yards, 202 of those on the ground.
Bumphis later caught a 7-yard scoring pass from Relf, and Corey Broomfield had a late 43-yard interception return for a touchdown for State.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal