State Loses Battle Of Bulldogs 23-10

Mississippi State's strategy worked just as planned. But while winning one battle the host Bulldogs actually managed to lose the war, and the game.

Unable to run the football with their usual efficiency, Georgia put their underrated passing game to good use in claiming a 23-10 victory at Scott Field. The visiting and #7-ranked Bulldogs went home 4-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC play, while State fell to 2-2 overall and 0-2 SEC.

Senior quarterback D.J. Shockley had a career night in all aspects, throwing for 312 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He completed 21 of his 36 attempts, both personal bests, without an interception. In the process Shockley showed Georgia was not entirely dependant on their previously-potent running attack.

"I felt like he was the only player really doing anything," cornerback David Heard said. "If they didn't have Shockley it would have been completely different, it's hard to defend a quarterback like him."

Shockley wasn't the only UG Dog on the field of course, as he spread the ball around to no less than a dozen receivers with an amazing balance between split ends, backs, and most of all tight ends. And while Georgia was ‘only 5-of-15 on third downs, the quarterback made conversions that counted most. "He threw the ball better than I thought he would," said Coach Sylvester Croom. "He is a very talented quarterback."

Talented enough to foil a MSU gameplan that seemed sound, to keep Georgia's ground game in check. As early as the opening series the home Bulldogs showed they could get to and bring down UG running backs, and at evening's end Georgia had just 94 net rushing yards and only 2.8 yards per run. So in that respect State ‘won' a battle. "Our purpose was stop the run and make Shockley throw the ball," linebacker Anthony Littlejohn said. "If he was going to beat us it was throwing the ball."

Sadly, Shockley did exactly that. After spotting State three points on the opening turn of the game, via a field goal from Keith Andrews, the Georgia offense quickly adapted their offensive gameplan and let their senior triggerman make plays. Which he did, producing 23 unanswered points and consuming lots of yards and even more minutes along the way. "We stopped them on the run," said linebacker Quinton Culberson, "they just made a lot of big-down plays." Enough so that Georgia had an 11-minute margin in possession time.

That problem was clearly compounded by another frustrating SEC-outing by the Bulldog offense, which did manage to gain 254 net yards but collected 123 of it on their last two turns with the ball, after the outcome had been decided. The fourth-quarter efforts were encouraging—"The guys fought the whole game, there wasn't an ounce of quit," said center Chris McNeil. It was also too late to change the results.

"I am proud of our effort," Croom said. "We missed opportunities early on, sometimes we didn't play smart and we had penalties. We did play with heart and character."

And on the opening series State played well enough to score points. A 22-yard pass from Omarr Conner to Keon Humphries got the drive going and two ten-yard bursts by halfback Jerious Norwood advanced the ball within Andrews' range. In fact the Dogs had a 4th-and-1 at Georgia's 17-yard line and there was the obvious temptation to go for first down in the red zone. Having gone ten plays already State opted for the safer and surer choice and Andrews drilled a 34-yarder at 11:10.

But momentum swung quickly as it only took five snaps for Georgia to go in front, with a 80-yard drive. It began with a simple sideline catch by Bryan McClendon, a broken tackle, and 20-yard gain with five added for a facemask. If that play didn't forecast the rest of the action, the next three did. Because after two runs were stuffed, Shockley drew the defense in and flipped to Thomas Brown for a screen pass and 26-yard gainer. On the first-down snap Shockley should have been bagged, yet he got away and saw Danny Ware standing alone at the goal line three steps behind any coverage. The 28-yard touchdown pass came at 8:49.

Georgia's second series got to the Bulldog 23-yard line, again with Shockley's arm propelling the offensive, before Corey Clark and Littlejohn teamed up for a sack. State had to burn a timeout as Georgia set up for a field goal, before Brandon Coutu got to try his 41-yarder, which sailed wide to the left.

State got nothing out of two more turns with the ball, while the defense did force a second-quarter Georgia punt despite some inconvenient flags produced by an aggressive approach. "We got some penalties a couple of times," Littlejohn said, "but our whole purpose coming in was hit your man every time we got a chance." There were plenty of chances for contact, too.

Midway of the second period a 51-yard Blake McAdams punt was run back 19 yards to the MSU 41. Fullback Brannan Sutherland moved the chains with a 4th-and-1 dive for three yards, then after Georgia lost nine yards on a hold (which negated a 27-yard pass play) Ware ran around right end for 13 yards with, it appeared, a helpful hold on the corner. Regardless, UG had 3rd-and-six from the 25 when Shockley found Kevin Harris sliding across the middle at the 11-yard line.

On second down Leonard Pope caught a short toss in the right flat, then the 250-pound tight end dragged safety Demario Bobo the last five yards to break the goal line at 5:11 for a 14-3 lead. Coutu tried to expand the margin just before halftime but his 53-yard attempt landed well short. State had just 77 net yards for the whole half and time of possession favored Georgia by five minutes already. "Our offense had a lot of three-and-outs," Heard said, "we had to go in pretty quick. But it shouldn't have mattered."

Penalties definitely mattered at the start of the third quarter as State collected three more flags immediately, with 15 yards assessed on the kickoff for an illegal block that let Georgia start on their 42-yard line. When Shockley found Pope over the middle for 11 yards he was roughed for a bonus 15. And then after Shockley was smashed by Evans from behind the ball popped free, but an incompletion was instantly signaled. Evans kicked the ball in frustration, drawing a ten-yard conduct penalty, so in less than a minute Georgia had been awarded 40 free yards.

The refreshed, and angry, Dog defense was still able to hold at their ten-yard line so Coutu took a third swing for three points and this time was good, from 27 yards out, for a 17-3 margin. State's offense, contained for a half on the ground, tried to mix things up more now with throws to fullback Bryson Davis and Norwood netting 13 and nine yards. But flanker Will Prosser lost the handle on a short reception as Greg Blue knocked the ball free for Paul Oliver to recover before it rolled out of bounds at State's 40. The play was reviewed, a MSU first, and upheld.

Georgia made the turnover count. On a 4th-and-5 at the MSU 35 the visitors saw no need to punt, even after State called time, and from the shotgun Shockley had plenty of time to find Pope a half-step in front of linebacker Clarence McDougal. The catch-and-run was good for 34 yards and put Georgia on the MSU two. State's defense again guarded the goal line so Couto chipped in a 23-yarder at 7:15 for a 20-3 lead. The placekicker got to add a third field goal to his tally at 9:47 of the last quarter, also from 23-yards out.

Down 23-3 the MSU offense finally completed a drive, going 69 yards in five plays after a Derek Pegues kickoff return. Conner, sacked four times on the night, escaped pressure and directed Butler in position for a 44-yard strike to the Georgia 25. On 3rd-and-19 he hooked up with Joey Sanders down the middle for 30 yards and a first down, and then Conner bootlegged right and sucked in coverage so Butler could get free in the end zone for the touchdown catch at 7:18. It was the soph tight end's third TD reception of the season.

It was also too late to undo prior damage. Conner was 19-of-32 for 205 yards, and his last throw of the night was intercepted at Georgia's two-yard line after a 54-yard drive. State's ground game was not even half as productive as Georgia's with just 49 net yards, 43 of that by Norwood on 14 tough runs. Four Dogs did have four catches each.

None of which mattered much in the bigger picture. "In a game like this you've got to take advantage of opportunities you get," said Butler. "We'd move it and get a penalty or something bad happen and move us back." State did draw nine penalties for 81 yards. And Georgia was doing nothing on defense that the Dogs hadn't prepared for.

"It was just base things," McNeil said. "We just had missed blocks or our hats placed wrong. It was always something little. Several times we had opportunities to produce and didn't come out with anything."

Croom had praise for the defense and disappointment in the offense. "I thought we'd move the ball better," the coach said. "We have to get better offensively."

And soon, because next up for State is the second of three SEC teams currently ranked in the top-ten; in this case, #3 LSU this coming Saturday at 1:30. The only positive notes the Bulldogs could take out of this loss was certainty that they gave a full game's worth of effort, and hung with a top-ten foe much of the way.

"I think we can play with the best," defensive end Willie Evans said. "It shows the fans and the world that MSU has great character and great endurance. All that I can say is we played our hardest."

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