Bulldogs’ Bite: Blue Raiders unable to weather second-half surge in Starkville
The Blue Raiders headed into their Oct. 20 game against SEC-foe Mississippi State with hopes of picking up their fourth win over an SEC opponent and first win against a team ranked in the top 25 since joining the Sun Belt in 2000.
However, history was not in the making on a cool Saturday night in Starkville, Miss., as Middle Tennessee (4-3, 2-1 Sun Belt) fell at the hands of No. 12 Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 SEC) by a score of 45-3.
The Blue Raiders struggled to put together consistent offensive possessions against a Bulldogs defense that ranks among the nation’s leaders. MT converted on only four out of 15 third down attempts and committed three turnovers against a voracious Mississippi State squad.
A major story line coming into Saturday’s game revolved around how well the Blue Raiders would perform after a recent string of injuries. This was MT’s first game since finding out that two-time Sun Belt Player of the Week Benny Cunningham (knee) and wide receiver Marcus Henry (ankle) will miss the rest of the season due to injuries.
MT freshman running back Jordan Parker answered the call in the backfield, finding several holes in the Bulldogs’ defense while picking up 66 yards on 13 carries. Sophomore Reggie Whatley, who has split time between running back and wide receiver over the course of his young career, also added 48 rushing yards on only six rushing attempts.
In the pass game, wide receiver Anthony Amos also continued to pick up receiving yards at the same torrid pace that he has for much of 2011, adding six receptions and 93 yards, over half of the team’s receiving production on the night.
On the other side of the ball, the Blue Raiders kept the game close in the first half with the help of a stingy run defense that held Mississippi State to less than three yards per carry in the. After giving up a touchdown on the game’s first possession, MT held the Bulldogs out of the end zone for the rest of the first half.
Trailing 10-3, the Blue Raiders had a chance to tie the game up before the half after sophomore defensive end Shubert Bastien forced his second fumble of the season, and fellow defensive lineman Kendall Dangerfield fell on the loose ball.
The MT offense was content to protect the ball and attempt a Hail Mary, as the seconds wound down in the first half. Logan Kilgore heaved the ball deep from his own 44-yard line to Amos, as he streaked down the right side line in double coverage. The senior wideout made a fantastic catch, tipping the ball to himself with a pair of defenders draped over his back, but was unable to keep his balance, falling nine yards short of the goal line as the clock hit zero.
The second half belonged to Mississippi State, and the home team scored 35 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.
LaDarius Perkins led the second-half charge with a 64-yard dash to the end zone to start the the Bulldogs run in which they scored five touchdowns on five-consecutive drives, proving to be the death knell of the Blue Raiders’ chances of victory. Perkins finished with a game-high 125 yards on the ground and the one score. Quarterback Tyler Russell and the Mississippi State offense outgained the Blue Raiders, 446-305 on the night.
Bastien led the Blue Raider defensive unit, finishing with a game-high three tackles for loss and the team’s only sack. Safety Jajuan Harley led the team with eight tackles.
MT returns to the friendly confines of Floyd Stadium this Saturday, Oct. 27 for what will be its last Sun Belt matchup against visiting North Texas (3-4, 2-1 Sun Belt). The Mean Green accepted an invitation to join Conference-USA this summer, and are not scheduled to play the Blue Raiders again in the near future. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. Students get in free with their MT ID.