The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on five of the first six turns with the ball, including a returned Vanderbilt turnover, to make the 2014 home-field finale a romp. Mississippi State is 10-1 and 6-1 SEC while the Commodores left 3-8, 0-7.
All week players and staff had been asked how they would bounce back from last weekend’s loss at Alabama, which not only left the first blemish on the record but cost the #1 spot both in polls and the College Football Playoff rankings. The answer was as obvious as the margin of victory, which just happened to be the largest for State in conference play since 1936.
“That was Mississippi State football tonight,” Coach Dan Mullen said. “And it was great to see us respond off a loss the way we did.”
The 51 point performance gave this squad 429 for the season so far, which is already a record topping last year’s 426 points in 13 games.
GAME RECAP: Vanderbilt took first turn and mustered a couple of first downs, the second on 4th-and-inches Johnny McCrary fell forward to the 46. It stopped their as on 3rd-and-11 tight end Steven Scheu fell down mid-route. State got the ball on their 21, and got to work promptly.
Productively, too, beginning with a 19-yard throw to TE Malcolm Johnson; a five-yard rush by RB Nick Griffin; and a 14-yard pass to WR Jameon Lewis, all three of them seniors getting touches immediately. It was junior RB Josh Robinson breaking for 26 yards down to the 15. Play paused on second down a Commodore had to be helped off.
State used the break to plan a play that looked to Vanderbilt like an option-right. Instead of pitching to Robinson though, QB Dak Prescott flipped forward to M/Johnson. The tight end turned the shovel-toss into a touchdown at 8:01. PK Evan Sobiesk missed the PAT so it was just a 6-0 lead.
The Commodores only had three snaps this time, the third resulting in a seven-yard sack by LB Matt Wells. While State didn’t block the punt it was sliced out at the VU 49, though a false start pushed the ball back across mid-field. No matter, as VU’s Torren McGaster drew a pass interference penalty for first down on the 38.
RB Brandon Holloway turned the left corner for 13 yards and Robinson got eight more. Robinson thought he’d scored on the next handoff but a flag flew behind him as M.Johnson was called for blocking below the waist. This stuck State back on the 27-yard line; again no matter. Because Prescott threw to WR Joe Morrow at the 15-yard line, and the wideout did the rest as he tore out of one jersey-grasp and got to the goal at 5:05. This Sobiesk PAT was on-target.
A swap of punts later Vanderbilt started a drive before the quarters turned, then had 3rd-and-6 on their 37. McCrary found a receiver and got the ball to him too. But LB Christian stripped Latevius Rayford of the ball, then came up with the fumble. ‘Turtle’ Holmes took off down the right sideline, diving to beat VU back Ralph Webb to the pylon at 14:01 for his second touchdown return of the season and a 20-0 lead.
An after-thought pass interference call on LB Beniquez Brown put the Commodores on State’s 48 for free. But on 3rd-and-7 McCrary was run out a yard short of the stick; and the fourth-down try by Ralph Webb went nowhere. Rushes by Prescott and Robinson netted 35 fast yards, 24 by Robinson down to the VU 26. Then Prescott rolled out for a first-down throw at Morrow, left it short and saw Darius Sims apparently intercept it. Review showed the ball touched turf first.
Given the do-over, Prescott picked his passes more carefully. On 3rd-and-11 he found WR Fred Brown on the right sideline for 14 yards. On first down from the 14, Prescott looked right where there wasn’t anyone in a maroon shirt at all. But Vanderbilt bit because it left Robinson floating free in the left flat for a catch at the 15 and easy dash to the end zone at 8:27 for the 27-0 lead.
Patton Robinette took over quarterbacking the Commodores with a couple of completed passes. The third was too, just to the wrong team. Bulldog CB Tolando Cleveland stepped in front for the interception, giving State possession on the Vanderbilt 46. The Commodores now received an unhealthy dose of Ashton Shumpert with five-straight touches including a seven-yard catch and four more on a direct snap for first down. His ten-yard tote to the four-yard line set up Prescott for the called keeper and touchdown at 2:31.
Only 49 seconds later State had the ball back as B.Brown made the interception with a 24-yard return to the Commodore 25. Any chance for another touchdown self-destructed, first on a holding call after a caught ball that would have moved the chains, then when OT Justin Senior was downfield too far on another completion for first down. Prescott threw to WR Fred Brown at the 16 and State let the clock run down to 0:03 before Sobiesk kicked through the 34-yard field goal for a 37-0 halftime lead.
Shumpert ran six-straight times to begin the new half before a poor P Devon Bell kick gave Vanderbilt the ball on their 26. CB Taveze Calhoun was called for interfering with C.J. Duncan for first down on the 48, with Coach Dan Mullen nearly drawing a foul for raging at the ref. A couple of incompletions brought a punt fielded by WR Fred Ross at the two and only returned to the six.
State had to kick it back with Bell knocking it to mid-field. A third-down throw meant first down on the Bulldog 23 before McCrory was pressured into three misses. The 41-yard field goal tailed wide right at 7:48.
Prescott began the Dog drive with a 14-yard hookup to Morrow, then on third down the quarterback dove for the needed yards. As he went to ground a scrum behind him drew a flag as VU’s Vince Taylor was called for conduct. Spotted at the 35, Prescott went to Morrow again for 21 yards. RB Brandon Holloway rushed twice, to the two. On second down Shumpert blew through left guard practically unimpeded for the touchdown at 4:23. It was the sophomore’s first SEC score.
Another conduct call against Vanderbilt, on the kickoff, pinned them on the seven-yard line. A 18-yard pass did dig the ‘Dores out of that hole before having to punt again. With a 44-0 lead, QB Damian Williams and the second offensive line got this series. A quarterback keeper for 11 yards was compounded by a blocking penalty on Vanderbilt for spotting at their 33.
Two Holloway runs moved the chains, before a throw for Brown on the goal line that ought have been intercepted by Taurean Ferguson. Fortunately it was dropped, and when the teams swapped ends for the fourth quarter the Bulldogs had third down on the four-yard line. Then the nine after a false-start flag. Once more time, no matter.
Because Williams had plenty of time to watch Morrow cut in front of four white shirts for the catch and touchdown at 14:55.
That would be all the scoring for State. The Commodores did make a brave effort at avoiding the shutout though, with easily their longest and best drive against a backup Dog defense. They had to convert a 4th-and-2 on the State 16 with McCrary getting a good spot for his tough tote. The next fourth down was on the ten though, and needing six yards McCrary tried for six points.
His throw was on-target too, for C.J. Duncan. But it hung just long enough for S Brandon Wells to get over for a breakup at the left pylon at 7:04. Williams proceeded to run it out entirely, and had Holloway evaded one more tackler bonus points would have gone on the board.
State broke the 500-yard benchmark again with 502 this time, averaging 6.6 yards each snap. ‘Only’ 283 of it came on rushing which was a little less than might have been expected. That reflected Mullen getting touches for all his backs, since Holloway ended up tops with just 66 yards while Robinson had 63 on seven carries. Robinson still ended the 11th game ranking sixth in season rushing yardage. Shumpert pounded out 57 yards with the touchdown.
A better measure was only running Prescott six times; actually five as once he got sacked. He still got his 12th rushing touchdown of the season. Where the quarterback was much more productive was with his arm, 16-of-21 for 193 yards and three touchdowns. That gave him 23 for the season, one shy of former teammate Tyler Russell’s 2012 record. Williams was 3-of-4 for 26 yards and his first SEC touchdown pass.
Morrow paced MSU receivers with 79 yards on five catches with two touchdowns, a career game for the junior. State was able to rest WR De’Runnya Wilson all game; Mullen said the soph was cleared to play but not necessary as things developed.
Vanderbilt netted 49 rushing yards, the fewest allowed by a Dog defense in SEC play since 2009 against LSU. McCrary was 15-of-31 for 161 yards with one interception; his two subs were a combined 2-of-5 for 18 yards.
Besides his touchdown return, Holmes had seven tackles with one for a loss and a hurry. MLB Richie Brown led State with 10 tackles. LB Matt Wells was credited with 1.5 sacks and the other half went to DT Kaleb Eulls in his final home game.