"I want to go for it every time!" Mullen said. "I have to remember I'm the head coach and make smart decisions there, sometimes." Except one decision, Mullen allowed to make for him. "Talking to Les (Koenning), we had a two-play call deal. We got the opportunity to get everybody over to the sideline and guys said that's they play call they wanted to go with." The guys being the offense, and their guy being backup QB Dak Prescott.
This was no slight on starter Tyler Russell who has bulled for a few first downs himself this season already. It was just Prescott's faster feet the players favored, and the coaches agreed to go with the second of the two possible calls. "The thought is to get the first down there," Mullen said. "And Dak did a great job."
Greater even than hoped. Prescott not only dove right through center for a first down but bounced off the Razorback safety, regathered himself, and scored. "I just saw the end zone there and I was too close not to get in!" Prescott said.
Down ten points, the Razorbacks got a break as State's kickoff was out-of-bounds giving them strong starting position. They got to the Bulldog 41, then faced 4th-and-8. Too far for a field goal and too close to punt—though they did wind the play clock down before calling time—Arkansas took a big chance. Wilson didn't have anyone open but did have room to run and took off through right guard.
S Jay Hughes ought to have stuck him well-short. As it was Hughes did make enough contact that Wilson lost balance and fell forward. As soon as the ball was spotted everyone could see he was short, though the measurement was made to confirm.
LB Cameron Lawrence knew right then momentum was State's to keep. "The energy, the fan base, you have to tip your hat to them. The whole stadium went wild and I think that was kind of the turning point. And once we got rolling we couldn't be stopped."
What stood out afterwards though was the trust Mullen and staff placed in the Bulldogs to tell them what needed doing at the goal line. "When the players come up and say this is the play we want to run, they really get after it. And they really got after it on that play and it resulted in a touchdown." Then again, not all such fourth-down situations turn out favorably, either.
"And sometimes when you make it the decision is all based on the results; if the result is positive it's a smart decision, if the result is negative it's a dumb decision, right?"
SENIOR SALUTE: Mississippi State recognized 25 upperclassmen on 2012 Senior Day. One of them was not present, nor really a ‘senior' by school reckoning. But Nick Bell's presence was almost tangible to team and coach alike. The defensive end's November 2010 passing has been commemorated in ways large and small since and today was the culmination, with his name emblazoned in the north end zone.
Bulldog players all bore Bell's name on their jerseys, too, and not just the ‘36' worn before. Mrs. Linda Bell led off the seniors being presented too, receiving hugs and flowers from MSU president Dr. Mark Keenum, athletics director Scott Stricklin, as well as Dan and Megan Mullen. So a victory was mandatory under these circumstances.
"A great Senior Day, and a special memory," Mullen said. "Nick Bell would have been a senior today and it's still probably the toughest thing I'll ever go through as a coach. I hope it's the toughest thing I ever have to go through as a coach. But it was great to make sure we honored his Mom today and I know he was looking down on us, cheering for us."
State teams have now won five of the last six Senior Day games, the lone interruption by Arkansas in 2010's overtime battle.
COME BACK, TOBIAS: Also taking his pre-game introduction was OG Tobias Smith. A fifth-year senior, Smith had the option of going through this ceremony with his remaining 2008 freshman classmates; or waiting for 2013 in hopes the NCAA grants him a sixth year based on three major injuries that cost him 23 of the possible 48 games in his varsity tenure.
"Talking to him, he's going to apply for that sixth year," Mullen said. "But that's not in our hands." Based on the NCAA giving TE Marcus Green, himself oft-injured, a sixth season for 2012, the odds seem promising for this appeal. Younger teammates know how they would vote.
"I really love Tobias," RB LaDarius Perkins said. "He's a great leader and a great offensive lineman. If he comes back another year it will be awesome for us, and he's going t help the young guys out on the offensive line also. Him and Dillon and Gabe an all those guys. I really wish he'd come back."
WHEELING AND DEALING: As noted in the game story, Perkins had not caught a touchdown pass this season. In his first two varsity years the junior back scored five times on catches, working either out of a slot or from his backfield spot. Against Arkansas, scouting showed a defensive opening to use Perkins on wheel-routes…and the Bulldogs did indeed use it. Rolling around the right end, Perkins caught 13- and 24-yard touchdowns from Tyler Russell.
This route resembles others Perkins has used in the past, not least against next week's opponent Ole Miss. In two games against Rebel defenses already Perkins has caught six passes worth 167 yards and three touchdowns. So, does he sorta wish he'd saved this outburst for the Egg Bowl and not blown any '12 cover?
"Nah, I'm glad we did it today," Perkins said. "They'll probably see it again, you never know!"
The Rebels certainly expect to see Perkins hauling the ball. He bounced back from missing the LSU game with a quadriceps pull to rush for 91 yards on 17 rushes. That was more than the combined 80 yards he ran for in losses to Alabama and Texas A&M. Once Perkins knew he was cleared to play this week, he also knew he was going to have a productive afternoon against Arkansas' defense. Then he knocked out 28 yards on six carries, three for first downs, on State's opening drive for a touchdown.
"I was talking to Coach (Greg) Knox about it was working, we could run on these guys. Just make sure everybody stays on their blocks and the backs make their cuts."
And by ‘backs' Perkins meant more than just himself. Josh Robinson got four carries in the fourth quarter for 26 yards, one a 22-yard burst. The big haul though came from backup Nick Griffin. After gaining eight yards on his first tote, the sophomore turned Russell's option pitch-left into a 60-yard dash to the end zone that would have done Rockey Felker and Walter Packer proud.
Yes, Mullen said, he wants Perkins getting most of the touches each week. "But it's good to start getting that depth where you really feel good about the next guy as well," he said. "It just makes you more comfortable when you're putting stuff in there." Or putting Griffin in. He got off to a tough '12 start, still slowed more of mind than body by the spring 2011 knee injury. But after some hard and big runs in the second half of the season it is getting tough to keep the kid off the field.
"You got to see today, he looks like the guy we recruited," Mullen said. "You're starting to see that confidence."
One season trend was snapped by State; this was their first win when Perkins did not rush for a touchdown. Obviously two scores via catches was an acceptable alternative.
TURNING THEM OVER: But one 2012 trend did hold true. In every victory the Bulldog defense has come away with an interception. Or two, or three. After failing to pick a pass in their three losses, State got back to thieving against an Arkansas team that has been known to throw it to the wrong team. Wilson ended up being picked twice, by CB Jamerson Love and CB Darius Slay.
Along with three fumbles, all lost, the net-result was five Razorback turnovers to a single State fumble with no interceptions thrown. That nicely matched the SEC stats this week where MSU is tied for the league lead in turnover margin…and Arkansas is dead-last.
Mullen called it a "huge deal" how the Dogs forced or came up with giveaways. Not only did this clearly shake Arkansas attitudes, he thought it snowballed to State's own benefit as one turnover made the defense hungry for more.
"We got up and we started playing with confidence," Mullen said. "There can be a little bit of that in your head and once we created that first turnover I think the guys just kind of switched to hey, let's go back to that play-making mentality. And we made a lot for them."
IN THE BAG: The Dog offense made nothing of Love's pick just four plays into the third quarter, but the impact on Wilson's confidence was obvious the rest of the day. Instead of flinging freely he looked longer and aimed closer and the cost to Arkansas normally-explosive air attack was high. After a 14-of-15 first half, the senior was 9-of-14 in the second for just 88 yards. And the two turnovers.
"They're a great offense, they have a great quarterback and receiver," LB Benardrick McKinney said. "They messed us up a little bit but we game-planned. The d-linemen got better rushes, the linebackers got better fits, and the secondary held it down."
If the Dog defense managed just two true sacks, Wilson did feel much more second-half heat from a State front-four, or –three, that improved through the game this time. "All week we were like keep rushing, keep rushing, it doesn't matter what keep rushing," said DE Denico Autry, who had one of those sacks. DE Preston Smith had the other.
RECORD RUSSELL: Tyler Russell's assault on Bulldog passing records accelerates weekly now. With a 19-of-32 afternoon, 274 yards and four more touchdowns, the junior kept on climbing all sorts of Mississippi State charts. He already owned the season-touchdown passes mark so the current 21 just extends that one. And his four scoring throws matched Russell's own previous high, set in his 2010 college debut against Memphis.
So to quickly run through the standards: Russell today became the season-record-holder for both completions (201) and yards (2,523). He also broke the record for 200-yard games in a season with #7. Career-wise, he stands second already in career touchdowns with 34. And on and on it goes.
"It's a lot of history at Mississippi State," Russell said. "Just for our offense to break records like that lets you know we're going in the right direction." In fact this team now has thrown for more yards, 2,682, than any Bulldog squad before. And in the stat that matters most, these Dogs are 39 points from tying the 2010 standard of 377 set in 13 games.
"A lot of guys this is their fourth year in the offense," Russell said. "So we're pretty-well versed in everything and we go out and make plays."
*They weren't through scoring, but when the Bulldogs took a 31-14 lead in the third quarter it assured a win according to trends. State is 28-0 when leading after three quarters under Mullen's management.
*Mullen's 29th victory at State ties him for fourth among Bulldog coaches, with W.D. Chadwick (1909-13).