Mississippi State tops LA Tech, 57-21
RUSTON – Mississippi State scored 36 consecutive points during the first half thanks to a variety of Louisiana Tech mistakes as the SEC Bulldogs topped the C-USA Bulldogs 57-21 before 28,100 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday night.
The attendance marked the second largest in the history of the stadium, trailing only the 28,714 fans at LA Tech’s game vs. then-NLU in 1997.
“I thought (Mississippi State) was excellent tonight,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “I hate the mistakes that we made. The things we did — we shoot ourselves in the foot, which makes it very difficult to beat a very talented SEC team like Mississippi State with what they did. Just proud of the way our players competed, but certainly I’ve got to do a better job as a head coach, and we’ve got to do a better job protecting the football.”
LA Tech (1-1) appeared poised to pull off an impressive win early as the Louisiana-based Bulldogs took an early 9-0 lead in the first quarter. Highlighted by a 58-yard hookup between Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith and Marcus Gaines, Tech drove inside the Mississippi State 10-yard line before stalling. Jonathan Barnes booted a 27-yard field goal with 13:21 to play in the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead.
The Bulldogs from Ruston once again struck with the big play later the first when the true freshman cornerback Amik Robertson picked off Nick Fitzgerald and returned it 62 yards to the 2-yard line. A few plays later, Kam McKnight punched it in from the 1-yard line to extend LA Tech’s lead. A blocked point-after attempt by Jonathan Barnes made it a 9-0 lead for Tech with 6:46 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next drive, a Mississippi State field goal cut LA Tech’s lead to six, but the momentum shift followed quickly behind after Mississippi State blocked a punt and recovered for a touchdown, followed by an interception that resulted in a 17-yard drive and another six points for the Bulldogs from Starkville.
“Like I said, I thought we made mistakes,” said Holtz. “We have nobody to blame but ourselves for the amount of turnovers we had, and then just some of the mistakes we made. I thought our defense competed. I thought we ran the ball, but we didn’t play well on the perimeter in throwing and catching the ball.”
Mississippi State added 20 points in the second quarter. A fumble recovery set up a two-play, 14-yard drive for a score and then a highlight reel 30-yard TD scamper by Nick Fitzgerald upped the advantage to 30-9. The SEC Bulldogs then drove 76-yards on 11 plays, capped by a 21-yard pass from Fitzgerald to Gabe Myles. Tech blocked the extra point and Robertson returned it the length of the field for two points to make it 36-11.
Barnes added a 45-yard field goal as the first half expired for Tech to cut the deficit to 36-14 at the half.
Any chance of a Tech comeback was doused early in the third quarter as Fitzgerald scored on a 44-yard run 33 seconds into the stanza and Jeffery Simmons returned a Smith fumble 90 yards for a score at the 9:48 mark of the third. Miss State led 50-14.
Tech had an opportunity to score early in the fourth quarter. On second down and goal to goal from the Mississippi State six-yard line, a shotgun snap sailed high over Smith’s head. As both teams chased down the ball, it was accidently kicked numerous times towards the opposite end of the field. Tech finally recovered on its own seven-yard line, for a team rush loss of 87 yards.
“Like I said, it was a frustrating night for sure,” said Holtz. “We lost 122 yards into the total yards on the night. If we don’t have minus (87) on a snap when we get down there. We get down there another time, turn the ball over, fumble, they score with it. We get outgained by 140 yards tonight and lose 120, 87-some of them on that play.”
Kylin Hill capped Miss State’s scoring with a 2-yard run late in the third. Tech scored a late touchdown on a 9-yard strike from Westin Elliott to Zach Cousar with 15 seconds to play in the game.
Boston Scott rushed for 96 yards and Jarred Craft added 81 yards on the ground for Tech. However, the Bulldogs completed just 13-of-30 passes on the night for 163 yards. Gaines led the Tech receivers with 104 yards on three receptions.
“I thought our players competed,” said Holtz. “I was encouraged with the way we ran the ball, and I thought our offensive line did a really nice job in having two seniors like Jarred Craft and Boston Scott.”
Brandon Durman led Tech with eight tackles while Robertson added four tackles, one TFL and his first career interception.
“There are a lot of questions about this team,” said Holtz. “We talked about feast or famine, and I thought we saw some of the goods tonight and saw some of the bads tonight. I keep talking about I don’t know what to expect. I’ve got some seasoned, experienced players that I really feel good about, and I’ve got a lot of guys that have played in their second college football game tonight.”
LA Tech will hit the road for the first time next week when the Bulldogs open up Conference USA play against WKU at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 in Bowling Green.
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Louisiana Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz
Q: Coach, difficult night tonight, but you still went out and talked to the student body that stayed.
Skip Holtz: How awesome is that? We come out here and absolutely turn the ball over, make some really foolish mistakes tonight and yet to see the students stayed, I was appreciative to them for staying and the support we’ve gotten from this crowd for this football team.
Like I said, it was a frustrating night for sure. We lost 122 yards into the total yards on the night. If we don’t have minus 95 on a snap when we get down there. We get down there another time, turn the ball over, fumble, they score with it. We get outgained by 140 yards tonight and lose 120, 90-some of them on that play.
I thought our players competed. I was encouraged with the way we ran the ball, and I thought our offensive line did a really nice job in having two seniors like Jarred Craft and Boston Scott.
I thought they were excellent tonight. I hate the mistakes that we made. The things we did — we shoot ourselves in the foot, which makes it very difficult to beat a very talented SEC team like Mississippi State with what they did. Just proud of the way our players competed, but certainly I’ve got to do a better job as a head coach, and we’ve got to do a better job protecting the football.
Q: I want to ask you a question about a play that happened early in the game, because I was in agreement with you. I thought one of the point of emphasis in college football this year was no leaping. It appeared to me they leaped over to block the extra point.
Skip Holtz: Yeah, it was — I thought the leap — I didn’t see it clear enough, but I thought that was more of a punt block. The one on the field goal, I thought they went through our center, and there is a heightened rule this year that we’re not going to allow you to hit the center, and we’re going to protect him. But it appeared when I watched it, the center was the one that got knocked back. It’s pretty hard to block when you have your head between your legs, and you’re throwing the ball back there for the snap.
They didn’t see it that way. I thought the officials did a really good job tonight. I certainly can’t sit here and blame the officials for what happened tonight.
Like I said, I thought we made mistakes. We have nobody to blame but ourselves for the amount of turnovers we had, and then just some of the mistakes we made. I thought our defense competed. I thought we ran the ball, but we didn’t played well on the perimeter in throwing and catching the ball.
Q: Final question, Coach. You opened up with an FCS opponent, and then you have an SEC opponent. So now you’re looking at the Conference USA opener. So there are a lot of questions about your team, but it is conference play and this team will be ready.
Skip Holtz: There are a lot of questions about this team. We talked about feast or famine, and I thought we saw some of the good tonight and saw some of the bad tonight. I keep talking about I don’t know what to expect. I’ve got some seasoned, experienced players that I really feel good about, and I’ve got a lot of guys that have played in their second college football game tonight.
We’ve got to get some things cleaned up. We’re going to play the Conference USA champions from a year ago. We had an opportunity to play them twice last year. We won at home, we lost up there. We’ve got to go on the road in this series. We’ve been two of the better teams in the league when you look at the win/loss records in Conference USA, but the home team has held serve.
We certainly have to use this as a learning experience. We’ve got to get better, and we’ve got to eliminate some of the mistakes to give ourselves a chance to win for some of the good things we’re doing on both sides of the ball.
Louisiana Tech Running Back Boston Scott
Q. (Away from mic.)
Boston Scott: Um, I think that’s just with the inexperience that we have. We’re a young team. We’re learning, but we’re going to regroup. We have a tremendous amount of belief in the coaching staff. I know that they’ll get us right. We’ll get things going in the passing game and that way it will open up inside and we’ll get it together for next week. We’ll be fine.
Q. Ever been involved in anything like a third and goal with a 97 yard line —
Boston Scott: I have not. It was encouraging to see the amount of hustle that we had. That’s what I was kind of looking for in the times that we were down, just to see if guys would compete. I’m encouraged with the competitors we have. We’re — like I said, we’re going to get it together. We have a great coaching staff. The game wasn’t — the game wasn’t us, but we’ve got to own up to it, and we’re going to be all right.
Q. Describe the mood in the locker room right now. What more could they have done tonight?
Boston Scott: I think we competed. We got a bunch of competitors, you know, a lot of guys, nonconference game, got out of hand. We’re competitors out there. It’s a loss. We take it to heart. It’s just going to encourage us, going to push us next week. We got some fighters in there, so we’re going to be just fine.
Q. Largest crowd ever here. How do you describe the atmosphere?
Boston Scott: The atmosphere was electric in the beginning, things were great. One of the best atmospheres I’ve been a part of. Next time we have an opportunity to have a crowd like that, we’re going to make it different. We’re going to make it different. We’re going to come out to play.
Louisiana Tech safety Secdrick Cooper
Q. Explain your emotions and getting back on the field with your guys tonight.
Secdrick Cooper: Right now I’m encouraged by the defense. Seen a lot of good things out there, just have to focus on tackling the ball carrier and not giving up the big play. I felt like we did a good job, decent job defensively, as far as filling our gaps and coverages, but like I said, the big plays and the missed tackles was a down for the day.
Q. (No microphone.)
Secdrick Cooper: It wasn’t really we kind of fell off, like I said, it was the missed tackles and the details toward the end of the game. Look at the scoreboard, and we was kind of down, but it was just like detail, missed tackles.
Q. You are the most senior in the defensive backfield. When you go into the defensive back meetings and you look around at younger guys, and they’re watching film, what do you hope to teach them about being ready?
Secdrick Cooper: Teach them to learn from this game. We got plenty more games to come, and you can step up next week. Just don’t let it bring you down. We’ve got — like Coach said, we have 24 hours to mourn the loss, get it out of the way and comeback stronger next week.
Q. (No microphone.)
Secdrick Cooper: Yeah, he’s talented. Probably one of the best cornerbacks we have right now and, you know, in the future, he has a real bright future.
Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen
DAN MULLEN: — Offensively we’ve got to clean some things up. We’ve got to constantly execute cleaner throughout the course of a game, but I think overall we played well and get ready for league play next week.
Q. The impact a guy like Simmons can have not just on defense but making special teams plays like that? DAN MULLEN: That was crazy, wasn’t it? Safe punt, blocks the punt, scores, and, you know, he was going crazy. That was pretty exciting to see, you know what I mean? He’s a guy that works his tail off. Not — I know he’s a very talented player, but don’t mistake that for the fact of how hard he works every day at practice to be able to put himself in a position to make those plays.
Q. Can you explain the 80-something yard loss by —
DAN MULLEN: That’s what I’m sayin’ that’s crazy stuff right there. Like our guys are saying, we might get top-10 play of the week, with Jeffrey with two touchdowns in the game, and then we’re going to get top-10 worst play of the week. Was that like — I’m like watchin’ it and I’m like just pick it up. It was like — honestly! (Laughter.) Looked worse than Liverpool did this morning (Away from mic.) Awful.
Q. Michael Story got thrown in at left guard today. What did you think of him?
DAN MULLEN: We’ll see on film. Like I said, the offense at times, I thought, executed fairly well. We were able to run the ball fairly well today. What did we have? 327, you know, which is big. When you come on the road you want to be able to be — you know, you come on the road in an environment — they’re ready for this game, a very explosive offense that we were going to play. A team that’s picked to win their conference championship, and you want to be able to establish the run game. We were able to do that and play a bunch of different guys.
Q. Gerri Green had a huge game. What made him effective?
DAN MULLEN: Work ethic. He’s another one. I mean, Gerri — Gerri is poster child-type person, you know what I mean? Great student, leadership committee, everything you ask him to do he’s going to do as hard as he possibly can. And, you know, that translates when you watch him play. The energy he plays the game with, the intensity he plays with is pretty special.
Q. The defense were down 9 -0, and they spearheaded a contrast from last year. What have you seen from that unit?
DAN MULLEN: I was pleased with the team. You’re on the road. We have a young football team, and we drop down 9-0. Todd does a fantastic job. Everybody just calm down, you know what I mean? We’re down 9-0 on a 2-yard drive and a long pass — one play for a long pass play, so — you know what I mean? But I was really pleased that — he did a great job, our defensive coach calming guys down, and I’m pleased with the leadership on the team. The maturity they have. All of the sudden you’re on the road and boy, I mean, you look — atrocious start, and now we allow the crowd to get excited. Everybody just calmed down and did their job and everybody came out and started making plays.
Q. You had them rolling offensively. What made the run game so good tonight?
DAN MULLEN: We blocked ’em up front, you know what I mean? And that’s — that’s what it did. Then you put on top — I mean, to me, Aeris was running the ball hard, shoot, he only had 9 carries, huh?
Q. Wished he had more?
DAN MULLEN: Well, no, I thought he had some more, because, like I say, I thought he was running hard and physical, you know what I mean? It wasn’t — like you look at Fitz’ number, sometimes, Fitz with 10 carries has three or four hard-nosed runs and a lot of runs to the outside and run out-of-bounds or on an option play, you know? And Aeris I thought was churning pretty well and helped — you know, you expect Fitz to get the bigger runs, more than Aeris, but I thought we blocked and he made some good runs.
Q. What do you think of the targeting call on Cam Dantzler?
DAN MULLEN: Keep my mouth shut. I know this. There is a good chance our AD would have been thrown out of that game. If I know him? >> It’s time to go!
DAN MULLEN: You can tell his maturity as an athletic director. He walked in and was calming me down, and I said would you have been thrown out if there was baseball, and he said probably a good chance of that happening, and I’ve seen his fire and his maturity to calm down. It is what it is.
Q. (Away from mic.) — the rotation of running back. What have you seen from him?
DAN MULLEN: The same thing. Him and Kylin, both talented players. You love to get ’em on the field but you gotta see them — you know, it’s one of the hardest things, you know, because if you’re a fan you’re looking at the film and see these guys running with the ball, but there’s a lot of other things you have to do. Like Aeris played a bunch, had 9 carries. There’s a lot of other things you have to do and they’re still growing and maturing. And Greg is constantly staying with them and trying to accelerate those guys because they’re talented backs. We just gotta make sure they can do all the other things when they’re not carrying the ball, the right way.
Q. Help those guys mature in a week to play an LSU football team?
DAN MULLEN: They’re an excellent football team — a top-10 football team, you know what I mean? They’ve got a ridiculous amount of talent. So we gotta — we gotta take another step forward this week and it’s a great challenge for us to prepare harder, practice harder, play harder next Saturday.
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