Mullen did not comment on the apparent knee injury, the third suffered by a starting Bulldog blocker in two weeks. The impact, now, he would discuss. "It didn't help, that's for sure. When you have to put in a freshman center, a freshman left tackle, against the top team in the country, it's a tough deal." LT Blaine Clausell was starting there this week after two-game opener James Carmon went down shortly before halftime at Auburn with his own knee injury. Carmon was walking without crutches Thursday night, but in sweats and not a uniform.
The other at-Auburn injury, OC Quentin Saulsberry, recovered from a sprained knee in time to start this one. But when Smith went out Saulsberry moved back to his old position at right guard, with redshirt frosh Dillon Day playing center the other 56 offensive snaps. He left a few hikes high, one resulting in a near-turnover and busted play, but otherwise was sound and looked like one of the better protectors of the night. Not that anyone had a great game against LSU's justly-touted defensive front, Mullen said.
"But those guys have to step up. That's life in this conference. You're going to get banged-up and beat up and the next guy has always got to be ready to step up. Because we're going to have more injuries I'm sure during the course of the year." Just hopefully not on the line. Carmon could be back for Louisiana Tech but Smith's situation will have to be evaluated after swelling goes down. The only slight solace was this time it was not Smith's ankles, which cost him two seasons separately, causing the problem.
According to Clausell, though, another shuffle of the front five did not impact the gameplan or play calls.
"It didn't really change anything. One thing Coach (John) Hevesy tells us all the time is you've got to be ready when your number called. Tonight was just one of those nights Dillon's name was called. He came in and I think he did a good job."
SENIOR SERVICE: It was a darned-if-you-do-or-don't, said defensive coordinator Chris Wilson of coverage schemes. State could either zone to limit damage, or go man-on-man and risk big hits. Choice? "It was a little bit of both," Wilson said. He called for zone early, then later man in an attempt to mix the looks. He thought the zone led to some ‘soft' play and tried being more aggressive in man, but that ultimately set up LSU's one touchdown on a 19-yard sideline pattern.
"Against a team that explosive you have to make a decision how you play them," Wilson said. The other reason for manning-up was falling behind as it did offer the possibility for making game-turning plays. And CB Johnthan Banks did make an interception, but was unable to convert it into a bigger play. Nor did the offense, punting it back 43 seconds later.
Still, "Our secondary right now is the strength of our defense and they protect us from giving up points," Wilson said. None more so than senior S Charles Mitchell with a career-high 16 tackles, the most by a Dog defenders since 2008.
"I'm impressed with Charles not only as a player but as a leader. He's the guy that kept us in the ball game," Wilson said. "Guys like Charles and Wade Bonner, they kept saying there's a lot of football left. When you have leaders like that you have a chance to be in every football game."
HEAD GAMES: True, but senior Bonner also had a hand…rather, a face…in one of the game's benchmark moments for the wrong reason. After PK Derek DePasquale tied the score 6-6 in the third quarter, LSU overthrew an open receiver on the MSU sideline. As Tiger Rueben Randle dropped his guard and turned forward, Bonner smacked him hard and straight-up; a clear case of a defenseless late hit.
The 15-yard penalty got going another Tiger field goal drive for the lasting lead this time. Mullen was not happy at all by a veteran's careless reaction. "We get a personal foul, make a mistake on the play that really swung some momentum at that stage of the game. It was a knock-down, drag-out brawl, and we get a personal foul and give them a cheap score."
PICK A WINNER: With his fourth-quarter interception, Banks now has nine career picks. That ties him with fellow junior and cornerback Corey Broomfield for the active lead. Both are over half-way to the program record of 16 interceptions. Both also have three career touchdown returns, tying them for the NCAA active player lead.
SHOWING UP: After two games without a reception, senior TE Marcus Green broke loose for three grabs and a team-best 46 yards.
NOSE FOR THE BALL: A week ago in his very first college play, OT Blaine Clausell was the accidental target of a pass…which he caught. As Auburn accepted the play instead of penalty it was counted. This time, on State's last possession, it was Clausell running down a loose ball after QB Tyler Russell was stripped in the backfield.
Clausell even tried to advance the fumble, but was ruled down at the 37 yard line for loss of five yards.
NO HURRY OR WORRY: Mississippi State did not use any of its second-half timeouts. Not even on the final possession, which began at 2:48 and saw Tyler Russell take the team from the MSU 26 to LSU's 15 with a first down and just a few ticks left.
Players and fans naturally wanted to get the ball in the end zone at least once. The coach wasn't worried about meaningless points though.
"We were down, 13? I thought the game was in-hand at that point and we had a bunch of young guys out there trying to do some stuff. I figured the game was in-hand at that point."
Russell threw incomplete on the final play. Thus for only the second time in Mullen's tenure the Bulldogs failed to score a touchdown of any sort. Alabama held State to a field goal in 2009.
WHO PLAYED: (*starter, GP-GS) *WR Chad Bumphis 3-3, RB Robert Elliott 2-0, WR Brandon Heavens 3-0, *S Charles Mitchell 3-3, S Nickoe Whitley 3-2, ST Dylan Favre 2-0, *S Wade Bonner 3-1, *WR Chris Smith 3-2, *LB Brandon Maye 3-1, *LB Cam Lawrence 3-3, WR Ricco Sanders 2-0, *S Johnthan Banks 3-3, *QB Chris Relf 3-3, WR/ST Jameon Lewis 3-0, QB Tyler Russell 2-0, WR Brandon Hill 3-0, *WR Arceto Clark 3-3, ST Louis Watson 3-0, LB Matt Wells 3-2, *FB Sylvester Hemphill 3-1, ST Jamerson Love 3-0, *CB Corey Broomfield 3-3, CB Damein Anderson 3-0, RB LaDarius Perkins 3-0, *RB Vick Ballard 3-3, ST Jay Hughes 3-0, WR Sam Williams 3-1, TE Marcus Green 3-2, LB Jamie Jones 2-0, FB Adrian Marcus 3-0, ST Dee Arrington 3-0, P Baker Swedenburg 3-3, K Derek DePasquale 3-3, , ST William Shumpert 3-0, ST Christian Holmes 3-0, ST Darius Slay 3-0, LB *Deonte Skinner 3-1, LB Ferlando Bohanna 3-0, KO Brian Egan 3-3, DE Trevor Stigers 3-0, *C Quentin Saulsberry 3-3, LB Brandon Wilson 3-2, ST Archie Muniz 3-0, DT Devin Jones 3-1, *OG Gabe Jackson 3-3, *OT Addison Lawrence 3-3, OC Dillon Day 3-0, ST Eric Lawson 1-0, ST Ben Beckwith 3-0, *OG Tobias Smith 3-3, ST Sam Watts 3-0, DT Dwayne Cherrington 2-0, *OT Blaine Clausell 2-1, ST Joey Trapp 1-0, ST Damien Robinson 2-0, WR/St Malcolm Johnson 1-0, SN Reed Gordon 3-3, WR Michael Carr 3-0, *DE Kaleb Eulls 3-3, DT P.J. Jones 3-0, *DT Fletcher Cox 2-2, DE Shane McCardell 3-0, *DT Josh Boyd 3-3, *DE Sean Ferguson 3-3.
WHO DIDN'T: Dressed but not participating were QB Dak Prescott 0-0, RB Nick Griffin 0-0, ST Jonathan Phillips 1-0, DE Corvell Harrison-Gay 1-0, OL Ethan McKee 0-0, ATH Derrick Roos 0-0, OL Corbin Stewart 0-0, DS Winston Chapman 0-0, OL Paul Thompson 0-0, WR Robert Johnson 1-0, DT Curtis Virges 1-0.
*New starters from last week were: OT Blaine Clausell, S Wade Bonner, LB Brandon Maye, FB Sylvester Hemphill, LB Deonte Skinner. It was the first-ever start for all but Bonner.
*Last week's starters not starting: OT James Carmon, S Nickoe Whitley, LB Matt Wells, TE Marcus Green, LB Brandon Wilson. *Players last week that did not play this game were: ST Marvin Bure, Carmon.
*First-time players were: Lawson, Trapp, M.Johnson.
*Mississippi State was able to extend the string of home-game sellouts in the Mullen era to eleven games thanks to last-day purchases. LSU, which was allotted over 7,000 tickets as usual, for the first time in years returned unsold stock; likely due to the midweek date for their third game. State was able to sell the ducats and keep the sellout streak going.
Official attendance was 56,924.
*Mississippi State is now 7-9 in regular-season Thursday night games since 1992, and has not beaten a SEC team in such games since the 2001 Egg Bowl.