By BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – A little Ray Lewis went a long way for K.J. Wright and the Mississippi State defense.
Prior to Saturday’s game against Georgia, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz showed his players clips of Lewis, the longtime Baltimore Ravens linebacker. Wright, a senior weakside linebacker, had a Lewis-like game, recording seven tackles, half-a-sack, three quarterback hurries and four pass break-ups.
“We really challenged our best players to be our best players,” Diaz said. “And I think K.J. is in the understanding now that this is it, we are looking to him to be a great player. And he was.”
Said Wright, “I just really made a thing on myself: I’ve got to do it, I’ve got to lead my defense to a victory.”
MSU continued its bend-don’t-break approach. Georgia was 7 of 15 on third downs, but it couldn’t reach the end zone until late in the fourth quarter.
“It was either me or him, we were screaming, ‘Three-and-out!’” defensive end Pernell McPhee said. “They get a first down, he was like, ‘Don’t worry about that, play the next play.’”
• Getting a couple of breaks always helps, and MSU got plenty of them Saturday. A sampling:
• Georgia tailback Washaun Ealey fumbled at State’s 1-yard line, although it wasn’t ruled a fumble until a replay review, and MSU got the ball.
• Georgia had a touchdown pass called back by a holding penalty in the second quarter. The visitors settled for a field goal.
• An interception by Vance Cuff was wiped out by an offsides call on Georgia in the third quarter.
• MSU quarterback Chris Relf fumbled the ball in Georgia territory, but it bounced several yards out-of-bounds.
“We’ve had plenty of practice ruing a couple of bounces that went against us,” Diaz said, “so tonight when the ball bounced our way, we’ll be more than accepting of that.”
Three men down
• Starting tight end Marcus Green did not dress out for the game, nor did his backup, Brandon Henderson. Both were out with knee injuries, and it was the second straight week Green was sidelined.
Kendrick Cook and Thomas Webb were their replacements. Neither had a catch.
Also absent was second-string defensive end Johnathan McKenzie, who earlier in the week quit the team to focus on academics.
• Leading 10-6 in the fourth quarter, MSU drove 93 yards in 10 plays, converting a fourth-and-1 along the way and scoring a touchdown on Relf’s 33-yard strike to Arceto Clark.
Key number – 1
• Number of turnovers MSU committed. The Bulldogs gave it away five times the previous week at LSU.
• “Right now we’re just a good defense. We could be a dominant defense if we really put our mind to it.” – MSU defensive end Pernell McPhee
• MSU steps out of conference to host Alcorn State. It’s the second consecutive year the Bulldogs have played a SWAC school.
• Safety Charles Mitchell led MSU with 10 tackles. … State recorded 5.0 tackles-for-loss and one sack. … For the first time this season, MSU failed to score on its opening drive of the second half. … Kicker Derek DePasquale had the first two touchbacks of his career, and they were the first touchbacks for MSU since the 2008 season.