The signs are easy to recognize now in hindsight. The Mississippi State-Louisiana Tech college football opener, having been preempted by Michigan-Utah, which relegated me to a soundless screening on ESPN360.com, didn’t get off to an auspicious start. Let’s go over what happened when two of the four FBS teams nicknamed “Bulldogs” squared off.
La Tech started out passing, a lot, to the tune of eight out of their first nine offensive plays. The MSU defense put decent pressure on Tech’s quarterback, Taylor Bennett, save for a three-man rush which allowed Tech to convert a 3rd and 10. Opening drive discipline for the Bulldog defense, combined with a couple Tech false starts, led to a punt.
In his first drive, MSU’s Wesley Carroll looked to have some opening game jitters, leading to poor execution. The Miss. State offense on the second drive looked in-sync. I was particularly a fan of the diverse play calling. Carroll made four great passes, three of them totaling 62 yards, on the way to a score. Mississippi State did not face one third down. 7-0 MSU Bulldogs.
The Louisiana Tech offense stayed persistent against a thought-to-be dominant Mississippi State defense. They spread the field, called some gutsy plays, and did what they had to do in order to stay away from State’s defensive line. The end result was a 48 yard field goal. 7-3 MSU Bulldogs.
On their next possession, the Bulldogs became unwound. It started when a 70+ yard reverse option from Brandon McRae got negated by the holding of Co-Eric Riley. Miss. State went into West Coast(ish) mode with some quick hitting passes, until Wesley Carroll & Co. got a little too cute. DB Weldon Brown of La Tech, aka, Spiderman (I’ll call him that since ESPN related a story about Brown having been bitten by a spider over the summer, having endured a hospital stay, and playing that day with an open wound), batted down an ill-advised attempt and on the very next play, his fellow DB, Antonio Baker, intercepted a lame duck.
Wesley Carroll was 7-12 in the first quarter with 105 yards, and you could almost say the one interception wasn’t his fault as he was hit while throwing. However, he regressed. MSU started the 2nd quarter with an incomplete pass, a false start, and a mis-communicated interception. This is the point where most would question the lack of dedication to the running game.
The male Techsters marched down the field, threatening to score with 2nd and goal on the 5-yard line. Just like their opponent, the Tech Bulldogs tried to get “cute” on offense. A half-back pass attempt was intercepted by an alert Keith Fitzhugh in the end zone.
Tyson Lee’s first appearance at QB for Mississippi State was hit and miss – he scored two short range passes, then fumbled and got sacked. The offensive line wasn’t exactly holding up its end of the deal either.
Lee’s second chance was muffled by a dose of the running game, which largely consisted of an Anthony Dixon juke and jump scamper for 31 yards. Lee proved Red Zone worthy with a surprise pass play on 4th down and a 13-yard pass which set up a 1-year Brandon Hart touchdown run. 14-3 MSU Dawgs.
Things seemed to go well until special teams went south. Miss. State allowed themselves to be pinned on the 1-yard line, and then yielded a 28-yard return on a slacking 33-yard punt. La Tech had it made with position at MSU’s 13-yard line. Tech’s Patrick Jackson was ultimately responsible for the resulting TD run, going through the chest of MSU’s Tay Bowser, who at least blocked the subsequent extra point. 14-9 Mississippi State.
The second half started off with more special teams trouble in the form of an MSU Bulldog fumble on the kick-off. But MSU’s Keith Fitzhugh stepped up with another interception.
The defense stopped Tech on their next possession as well, but special teams came tapping with the same song and dance…a Jamayel Smith fumble, La Tech ball at the 9, draw play from the 6, touchdown – chances given by MSU for free. 16-14 Louisiana Tech.
Carroll came back in the game and looked ready to march, driving the ball down to the Tech 19, and aided by a 3rd and 12 conversion to Co-Eric Riley for 26 yards. But Carroll also showed a gunslinger mentality leading up to his third interception of the game.
La Tech took the pick 42 yards and MSU tacked on 15 with unsportsmanlike conduct. The MSU defense held their ground and Tech kicked a FG. 19-14 Louisiana Tech.
The return of Tyson Lee: Look, I didn’t mind Croom trying Lee earlier in the game, and he almost had to put him in after the third Carroll interception. Bad decision, in hindsight, as the offense sputtered, also thanks to a motivated Louisiana Tech defense.
With momentum, the Tech offense had their way. They won the battle of the bulge on a huge 4th down attempt from the 42 with one yard to go. Tech’s Patrick Jackson would not go down after a couple hits, and the Tech Bulldogs would go on to score a 50 yard field goal from the sensational Brad Oestricher. 22-14 La Tech Bulldogs.
With his coach’s confidence and the reigns still in his hands, Tyson Lee could not lead the MSU Bulldogs to victory. MSU had two chances to drive and tie the game in the final seven minutes, one of which was created by a gift punt recovery off a Tech player’s back, but each ending result was a punt. Game over.
Special teams didn’t step up when they were needed and the offense didn’t succeed when it mattered most. Louisiana Tech played a good game and the win was well deserved. Mississippi State simply did not look fully prepared and their play was not inspiring.