Because three snaps later they had to kick again, this time to Banks. Bumphis had made a short return on his try; Banks did much better. Fielding at State's 35-yard line he faked Fred Frenol into lunging one way while Banks darted into the opening. "I was excited, on the sideline you could see it set up," Coach Dan Mullen said.
"We had some great blocking, if he could make that first move and get to the middle of the field I thought we had the middle blocked out and wide-open. He was able to do that and put on the jets." As well as slant back to the left into clear ground as RB Rob Elliott took care of the only potential tackler. "I thought he might get caught at the end and he was able to get in the end zone," Mullen said.
Banks only netted a yard on his other two punt shots. Bumphis had one turn that counted, for no gain. So, after Banks got the big one, why alternate? "It was just getting both opportunities, to do some different things back there," said Mullen. Besides, Banks accounted for State's other special teams touchdown this season when he ran back a Louisiana Tech punt 82 yards.
Banks now has 24 points as a collegian, the previous three touchdowns all on interception returns. He only became a punt returner this season despite a splendid record in high school including one game with a pair of touchdown returns. He had 97 yards the first 12 returns this season, and two-thirds of that on a single big strike. Banks was not brought to postgame interviews.
CLASSY CLASSMATES: Two who were, were younger Bulldogs who also accounted for touchdowns. In each case their first at State. Mullen used a healthy second-half margin to work lots of backups and reserves into the action, which gave a couple of redshirt freshmen some real opportunities.
Fittingly, QB Dylan Favre and TB Nick Griffin cooperated on the first fourth-quarter. Favre was handed the offense for the whole final period and directed a ten-play drive that included Griffin runs of 14 and 13 yards; the latter setting up first-and-goal at the five yard line. Griffin did the honors here as well with a dive through right guard for the score.
It had been a long time coming for the second-fall frosh, but when it did… "Honestly I can't even remember," grinned Griffin when asked details. "I just know I bounced it outside because I saw a defender going in. I tried to bounce it to get in." And did.
A series later, after UTM had gotten their fourth-quarter touchdown, Griffin ran five-straight times for 46 yards with a big bust of 34. On 3rd-and-goal the play looked to be a sweep-left for Elliott, but Favre bobbled the snap. Recovering, he just took it on himself to go for the goal and made it there at 1:12. As for sideline ribbing at his impromptu play "Aww, probably so," Favre said. "We stay after each other every day so that'll never stop!"
"Dylan, he's just a playmaker," said LB Cam Lawrence. "Put him on the field, you never know what's going to happen! But you can always expect good things out of him."
Favre had taken a few snaps in the Georgia game, and has worked on punt block/return since week two, but this was his first extensive offensive action. He was 3-of-4 throwing for 38 yards with a long one of 20. But all his completions were quite short shots with the receivers—twice classmate Robert Johnson—making gains after the grabs. So Favre ‘vertical' game has yet to be seen.
For that matter, there was no small irony that Favre's first college touchdown came afoot instead of off his strong arm. "I never thought of it like that," he said. "But as long as you get in the end zone it doesn't matter." As for sticking to short passes this night, "Just the situation we were in there was no need to take any shots down the field. I threw one but that was a call I had made, it wasn't a very smart decision. But I just tried to manage the offense."
Griffin's touchdown was a greater personal triumph seeing how he tore a knee ligament in spring training and wasn't fully activated until October. Griffin got a few carries in mop-up at UAB but no work the last two games. This, he said, "It was great."
"I'm just trying to be patient and waiting my turn. It was just a confidence booster to see what I can do and I feel pretty good! So my confidence is probably way up here right now!" Interestingly though, asked about Favre's more creative touchdown, "I think I was more excited about it than he was! I know he's been hungry to get one."
Yeah, Favre agreed, "But I was actually happier to see Nick Griffin get in the end zone, just coming off a big knee injury in the spring. And he's one of the most humble kids you'll ever meet. So I was really happy to see him get in." Told how his teammate had expressed the same sentiment in Favre's direction, "That's good!" said the quarterback. "He's in my class, our class is really a tight group of guys. I love every single one of them."
ON THE OTHER HAND…: WR Chad Bumphis has been lobbying his coaches for another chance to show off his own arm. The junior, who played quarterback a good bit as a high school senior, began his college career in 2009 by throwing an option pass on the very first play of Mullen's very first game. Incomplete, too.
Bumphis did complete a five-yard throw that year, but hadn't aired one out again until five minutes into Saturday's second quarter. With first down on the UTM 21-yard line QB Tyler Russell threw laterally to Bumphis, who had WR Arceto Clark open down the middle. Trouble was, Bumphis skipped his throw two yards in front of the intended target.
At least Bumphis could take solace in converting a Russell throw into a 78-yard touchdown play. It was Bumphis' 12th scoring grab in college, tying him for 6th on the all-time Mississippi State list. And at halftime he was seen playing catch with Favre as both kept their throwing arms loose, just in case.
VICK HITTER: TB Vick Ballard's two rushing touchdowns gives him 26 in two seasons, one behind Michael Davis for second place all-time at MSU. He now has 162 career points as well, ranking 8th.
WHAT A RELIEF: Though he can't be happy giving up the starting job held for 19-straight games, coming off the bench has been good for QB Chris Relf. In relief work against Kentucky and UTM, the senior is a combined 11-of-15 passing for three touchdowns and 153 yards. That's just under 14 yards per completion.
SPOT A TREND? Both of Relf's scoring throws this game went to Clark, who now has three touchdown catches this season. The other? On opening night at Memphis, thrown also by Relf. Clark caught three touchdowns all of the 2010 season, all thrown by Guess Who?
NOT THIS WEEK: DT Fletcher Cox was the SEC's Defensive Lineman of the Week for three-straight games, spread over four weeks. No Bulldog had ever pulled off a consecutive trio of league awards, and Cox had 20 tackles with four sacks in that stretch.
But after the UTM game, the official defensive stats did not show Cox making a single tackle.
UP, AND DOWN: Going into October, PK Derek DePasquale was bidding to become the most accurate field goal kicker in program history having made seven-straight since an opening-night miss. But the senior has gone into a sharp slump, missing four of his last five attempts with the most recent make against South Carolina. DePasquale missed from 38 yards this night.
However, he was good on all seven PAT tries against UTM, continuing his career perfection. DePasquale is now 78-of-78 in three seasons on point-afters. He would have made it 79 had not the snap been mishandled on State's last touchdown, and HO Baker Swedenburg tackled trying to salvage the play.