What makes the performance even more impressive is the fashion in which it came. Missing starters DeMarco McNeil, Javor Mills, Spencer Johnson, Tavarreus Pounds and Travaris Robinson for much of the game, less experienced players had to step it up in crunch time and they delivered. Sophomores Marcus White and Dexter Murphy along with true freshman Carlos Rogers all made play after play as the Tigers moved to a perfect 3-0 in SEC play with the win.
"They stepped up and did what they had to do because Javor Mills was sick all day, I don't know that he played all that much," defensive coordinator John Lovett said following the game. "Then we had DeMarco...he had a fever and an infection. He really was limited. It was like we talked about all week, we had to count on a lot of the other guys to play and that's what we did. They stepped up and responded and that was the biggest thing."
Unlike the past two games against Syracuse and Vanderbilt, the Tigers stuffed the vaunted Mississippi State running game for the majority of the evening. Allowing tailbacks Donte Walker and Dicenzo Miller to rush for just 99 yards on 27 carries between them, the Tigers were able to force State quarterback Wayne Madkin to beat them. The senior from Huntsville wasn't up to the task Saturday night.
"We came in here saying ‘we have to stop the run'," rover Rashaud Walker noted. "That's one of our team goals every game, basically. No matter who we play, we have to stop the run. We have a great pass defense. Nobody might believe that but we come into every game saying we need to make the offense one-dimensional. Stop the run and make them pass. Then we can blitz and mix it up. They had two great running backs and they are a very physical team. We knew it was going to be difficult to stop the run and I think we stepped up to the challenge tonight."
Defensive backs coach Phillip Lolley instructs Rashaud Walker (37) and Stanford Simmons (8) during the second half of Saturday's game.
Without the run to live on, the Bulldogs were forced to throw the ball more than Jackie Sherrill may have wanted to on Saturday night. With that knowledge, the Tiger coaching staff was able to take some chances and blitz at opportune times. One of those times just happened to be late in the fourth quarter. With the Bulldogs facing third down and six yards to go holding on to a small 14-13 lead, the Tiger coaches took a chance and went after Madkin. The gamble paid off as Karlos Dansby and Spencer Johnson combined to sack the Bulldog signal caller for a four-yard loss. The sack forced a State punt that led to the eventual game-winning drive by the Tigers.
"I like to blitz a lot and the coaches know that," Dansby said. "I have to give it to Coach (Joe) Whitt personally. He's the one that called the whip blitz and I just thank him that he put me out there and called that defensive play. I wish I wouldn't have missed him the first time, but thankfully my teammates were there to back me up."
Also backing up the Tigers was a very vocal crowd of 86,063 fans, most of which were wearing orange. Following back to back road games, several players noted that it was good to play in front of the home folks again. Though many expressed what the fans meant to them, Walker said it best.
"I think our fans are the best," he said. "When we play at home we can feel the energy coming from our fans. You feel like the fans are right there on the field with you, cheering you on. When things are going tough out there, you hear those fans hollering every time you do something good and it's like that extra boost just to keep you going no matter how tired you are."