The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Thompson impresses, Bulldogs trail after the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl

JACKSONVILLE, FL – Mississippi State University (8-4, 4-4 SEC) came out guns blazing in the first game of the post-Dan Mullen era of MSU football in the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl against the University of Louisville (8-4, 4-4 ACC).

The Cardinals received the opening kickoff but aside from a couple runs from former Heisman Trophy winner and UL quarterback Lamar Jackson, MSU’s defense held their ground and got a stop.

With an injury to Nick Fitzgerald in the Egg Bowl, true freshman QB Keytaon Thompson started his first game in Maroon and White. On his first drive as a starting QB, he was patient in the pocket and led the MSU offense down the field on a six play 56-yard drive capping off with a five-yard Aeris Williams touchdown run.

After a failed surprise onside kick attempt, Jackson got the ball around midfield to start his second drive. While MSU’s defense played well, forcing a 4th and 2, Jackson converted on a short pass and then drove the Cardinals in for the tying score with an eight-yard pass to Charles Standberry.

Thompson responded quickly with another quick nine play 79-yard drive. A drive where Thompson accounted for 42 of those 79 yards, including a 24-yard run that put MSU inside the 10-yard line.

MSU got a quick three-and-out on defense and their offense went back to work driving down the field. However, the much longer 14 play 49-yard drive that took over five minutes came up empty. MSU kicker Jace Christmann attempted a 42-yard field goal and missed wide right.

Louisville went on to tie the game after gaining 50 yards on one play. Thirty-five of those yards came on a catch and run then an additional 15-yards were added after a controversial late hit call on Mark McLaurin, who hit a player still inbounds. Jackson dazzled fans with a spectacular 13-yard run that tied the game at 14.  

MSU went three-and-out on their next drive.

On the following Cardinal drive, Jackson overthrew the ball and it landed in the hands of McLaurin, who returned it to the UL 20-yard line.

MSU was unable to capitalize on the interception and ended up settling for a 23-yard field goal to take a 17-14 lead.

Jackson would throw another interception on the following drive, this time to Cameron Dantzler. MSU once again struggled off of the turnover as MSU wide receiver Reggie Todd fumbled the ball with a UL recovery.

Jackson made quick work of the MSU defense with under a minute left in the game. He ripped off a 75-yard run and then hit Jaylon Smith for an 11-yard touchdown pass to give a UL a 21-17 halftime lead.

The first half was a quarterback duel between Jackson and Thompson as they lead their teams in yardage.

The freshman Thompson showed the poise of a senior in the pocket, hitting his receivers nine times out of 11 passes for 100 yards. He also ran the ball 16 times for 86 yards.

Jackson struggled during some parts of the game but also showed why he won the Heisman a season ago during other parts of the first half. He finished the half 7-16 through the air for 107 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran the ball eight times for 111 yards and one touchdown.

Helping Thompson for MSU was Aeris Williams. Williams finished the half with 48 yards on seven rushes, giving him 1,067 total rushing yards on the season moving him over Anthony Dixon’s 2007 season for the 10th highest season total in MSU history.

Helping Jackson was Pascagoula native and wide receiver Jaylon Smith. Smith caught four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Mark McLaurin and Cameron Dantzler led the way for MSU. McLaurin had four tackles, one interception and one pass breakup. Dantzler had three tackles, one interception and one pass breakup.

Trevon Young led the Cardinal defense with six tackles, two for loss and a sack.

Thompson will try to lead MSU from behind to capture the TaxSlayer Bowl in the second half. Follow @STaylorRayburn for live updates from Jacksonville.

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Thompson impresses, Bulldogs trail after the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl