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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Despite sluggish start, Bulldogs rally to beat UMass

Noah Siano | The Reflector

MSU’s J.T. Gray, a junior linebacker from Clarksdale, stiff arms a UMass player on his way to a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown. 

For the first time this season, No. 16 Mississippi State University football (7-2, 3-2 SEC) found themselves, unexpectedly, in a tight game late in their 34-23 win over the University of Massachusetts (2-7).

What many expected to be an easy win turned into a dogfight for MSU. The Bulldogs found themselves down 20-13 at halftime and had a 27-23 lead in the final eight minutes of the game.

MSU did not have a comfortable lead until Deddrick Thomas returned a punt 84-yards for a touchdown, with just over five minutes in the game.

Head coach Dan Mullen said UMass was better than their record showed, something junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, of Richmond Hill, Georgia, reiterated after the game.

“They’re a lot better than their record and they showed it in the first half,” Fitzgerald said. “We didn’t come in fired up, we didn’t come out executing the way we needed to, but I’m glad it’s over. [I’m] glad to be 7-2.”

Fitzgerald led the offense, going 14-25 through the air for 139 yards, but had two interceptions. He ran the ball 17 times for 136 yards, which places him at fourth all-time on the SEC career rushing yards by a QB list. He has 2,303 career rushing yards, preceded by former MSU QB Dak Prescott who had 2,521 career rushing yards at MSU.  The leader of the list is the former University of Florida QB Tim Tebow, who had 2.947 career rushing yards.

A sluggish start to the game

Entering halftime down 20-13, the ranked MSU team was not in the usual position ranked teams are against lesser opponents.

At halftime, MSU’s offense had turned the ball over twice and only gained 154 yards, compared to UMass’ 212 total yards. The offense only scored six points from two field goals in the first half.

The only real highlight from the first half came early when J.T. Gray returned an interception for a touchdown.

“We had a good week of practice,” Mullen said. “We came out and didn’t perform to our standards in that first half. It happens for kids sometimes, but they buckled down for the second half.”

Sloppy plays hurt MSU, not only in the first half, but throughout the game. By the end of the game, MSU had six penalties called against them for 63 yards. One flag included a targeting call against safety Johnathan Abram in the second half suspending him for the first half of MSU’s game against No. 2 Alabama next Saturday.

However, MSU picked things up coming out of the locker room, driving down the field twice in the third quarter to take a 27-20 lead. The defense picked up their play as well, only giving up three points in the second quarter.

In the end, MSU outgained UMass 393 total yards to 350.

“I really am proud of how our guys battled for four quarters,” Mullen said. “They came out in the second half and continued to make plays. We found ways to make plays to win there at the end.”

MSU finds creative ways to score

When J.T. Gray stepped over the goal line after returning an interception 58-yards, it marked the third straight game MSU had a pick six.

This trend started at the beginning of the season, when MSU’s defense forced two safeties against Charleston Southern University. It continued the next week when sophomore nose guard Jeffrey Simmons, of Macon, scored two touchdowns against Louisiana Tech University, one on a blocked punt and the other a 90-yard fumble recovery return.

Against the University of Kentucky, Gerri Green returned an interception 84-yards two weeks ago and Jamal Peters returned an interception 90-yards in College Station, Texas, against Texas A&M University last week.

The trend continued with Gray’s interception return and then Deddrick Thomas’ 84-yard punt return touchdown today. On the year, MSU has scored 40 non-offensive points this season.

“When we are in the right spot and doing our job, we can cause defensive interceptions and fumbles,” Simmons said.

The punt return was especially important today, as it was the dagger that ended UMass’ upset dreams.

“It was just that somebody needed to make a play,” Thomas said. “In those moments you have to keep yourself composed.”

On to Goliath

Next Saturday MSU takes on the Nick Saban and the University of Alabama.

Alabama has ruled the conference for years now under Nick Saban, and is the team everyone is trying to knock off.

Senior linebacker Dezmond Harris, of Bessemer, Alabama, said the Bulldogs do not put a lot of stock into the pedigree of the opponent but keep the same attitude for each game each week.

“We don’t really think about stuff like that, we just look forward to playing the game,” Harris said. “We will start game planning for Alabama come Monday, so it is just another game. It is the biggest game of the year because it is our next one.”

There is not a set kickoff time for the game.

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Despite sluggish start, Bulldogs rally to beat UMass