"Before we went out on the field I told the defense nothing says we can't go get the ball," OLB Lawrence said. "And it happened to be me!" Because instead of trying to run out the last 2:50 of the period, Alabama threw the ball twice. The second was aimed at tight end Michael Williams in the right flat, but Lawrence got in front first and intercepted at the 35-yard line.
"It was my time, my place, right place and right time," Lawrence. "Unfortunately I couldn't get the ball in the end zone and get points on the board." Though he noted that at the moment he was not thinking score. "After the pick it went through my mind anything extra I get is a bonus." That was until he recognized momentum was taking him into an open lane towards the end zone.
"I went to set up for the juke and I think somebody may have nicked me in the back and messed up my balance." Just that tiny bit of lost velocity allowed McCarron to undercut Lawrence at the four-yard line. Oh, the irony for this high school quarterback-turned-linebacker, to be tackled by the passer. "It really hurts me, deep," Lawrence say rather wryly.
Not as much as what came after though, with State failing to convert a turnover and red-zone possession into points. Two incompleted passes around a stuffed run and false-start forced another field goal, and another miss albeit by a different kicker. No wonder Lawrence will miss some Z's now.
"It hurts me, but I was able to get the ball for my offense and change the momentum." Just not for long enough.
The additional irony is this was Lawrence's second interception of 2011. The other was at Georgia, also just before halftime, and also near the opponent's end of the field. Two snaps after Lawrence had taken the ball away though, his offense gave it back on an interception.
TURN, TURN, TURN: A season that has already seen Mississippi State cycle through one starting quarterback change brought another twist to the position. Or, twists. First, because after missing one whole game and coming off the bench, successfully too, in the next two, Chris Relf returned to starting status this week. By the second series it was Tyler Russell under-center, and he would open four of the other six first-half turns.
What really had fans and for that matter foes buzzing though was how State handled a key second-half possession. Russell began this one too, but with a startling set of center and two blockers in front and fellow QB Dylan Favre in the backfield. All others were clustered in groups far to either side, including of course eligible receivers.
Such as WR Chad Bumphis who Russell found for a 11-yard gainer. Then it was Favre stepping into shotgun for two snaps, one a completion to TE Malcolm Johnson and the other missed but with flustered Alabama jumping offsides. Then Russell for six hikes, four of them completed passes.
"It's something we've been practicing on for three weeks and we decided to bring it out," Russell said. "And as you could see they couldn't stop it, the defense didn't know what to do. It worked." Even if it meant the odd sight of Favre as a sort-of tailback. "Yeah, it's kind of weird for Dylan to do that," said Russell. "He likes it though!"
"We wanted to keep them off-balance," Coach Dan Mullen said. "We've been practicing that stuff and I felt it was some good deals to keep them off-balance."
But what worked from the MSU 14-yard line down to the Tide 25 didn't, as on second down Relf shuttled in. He kept for one yard, was blitzed into an underthrow, and after all the fuss and flurry DePasquale missed. Russell was a trooper in postgame, saying he wasn't bothered by having to step aside having brought the ball so far and while he had a hot hand.
"No, we practiced it all week. Coach felt Chris gave us a better shot down in the red zone, it's something we practiced. It's no big deal to me, I just have to do what I've got to do to get my team down the field." So red zone percentages were behind going with Relf on the next series, after Lawrence's interception and return to the Tide four.
"We rotate in and out in practice, we do it all. Some of the things I do Chris can do, and vice-versa. It just depends on how Coach Mullen feels at the time." Besides, in the last two Russell starts Relf had entered and produced points both running and throwing in the red zone. That was against defenses not in the same league as Alabama's of course.
The coach's feelings were pretty blunt afterwards. Asked if he thought rotating quarterbacks left each looking ‘over their shoulder' during games Mullen had a one-word response. "No." With amplification asked, "We call plays. There's a lot of things we want to do with guys at different times. So we rotated. We rotated tailback, too. And receivers."
Not after intermission though as Relf did not return. "He had a mild concussion," Mullen said. "So we didn't play him the second half."
FOOT WORK: Just four weeks ago DePasquale was on track to finish as Mississippi State's most accurate placekicker ever, perfect on PATs and making over 80% of career field goals. He is still flawless on points-after for three years.
But his wide-right try from 41 yards was the fifth miss in his last six attempts. So when MSU next faced fourth down it was kickoff man Brian Egan sent on-field. "The other kid didn't have a good look in his eye," said Mullen of DePasquale. "He'd missed a couple, he wasn't looking confident after he missed the one before, he didn't kick it smoothly.
"Brian kicks really well in practice, we figured we'd give him an opportunity to see what he could do. He missed his opportunity, too. That's mental toughness, that's poor on my part not making sure they're mentally ready to go make those plays we need."
The two misses loomed so much larger after State's fourth quarter touchdown briefly cut the deficit to 17-7. Just one make in the opening half would have the Dogs in real striking distance. Of course, Alabama had missed two field goals in the first half as well so it was a wash.
Those weren't the only Bulldog breakdowns on special teams. Most glaring was a drop by P Baker Swedenburg he had to fall on at the 31-yard line. Fortunately Alabama failed to convert thanks to one of their misses. State also had a mental gaffe when ‘missile' man Marvin Bure nailed Alabama's return man out of bounds on a punt. The Tide eventually got their first touchdown off this short-field drive, though it took a pass interference on third down to set up first-and-goal.
Somewhat countering this was a 60-yard kickoff return by LaDarius Perkins which set up the only Bulldog touchdown.
MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: The game's only turnover was the second-quarter interception by Lawrence. But this also meant that for the first time Mullen lost a game where his team won the turnover battle, after starting 15-0…
Alternate MLB Brandon Maye was suspended from the game for disciplinary reasons…Starting S Nickoe Whitley went out of the game in the first quarter with what appeared to be a hurt left leg, and did not return…CB Corey Broomfield had a career-high 12 tackles. The junior had ten tackles earlier this season against LSU…The crowd of 57,871 was the second-largest in Davis Wade Stadium history, and this was State's 15th-straight sellout.