Aeris Williams ran for a 16-yard touchdown and Jamoral Graham returned an interception 38 yards for a score on the next play from scrimmage to help Mississippi State erase a third-quarter deficit and beat Massachusetts 47-35 on Saturday.
The two scores 17 seconds apart were followed four minutes later by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Nick Fitzgerald to Farrod Green that made it 41-21 just before the end of the third quarter.
Fitzgerald completed 25 of 38 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns, and he also ran for 110 yards for the Bulldogs (2-2). Fred Ross caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns for Mississippi State, which once again struggled to play well for two halves in a row.
“It’s hard to get a win,” Williams said. “But we were way superior to them.”
Andrew Ford, making his second start for the injured Ross Comis, completed 24 of 40 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns for UMass (1-3). But he also overthrew his receiver on the first play after Mississippi State’s go-ahead touchdown, and Graham was there to make it 34-21.
“Everybody was hyped and they wouldn’t even let me sit down,” Graham said. “And I was tired.”
UMass failed to move on its next possession and punted it back to the Bulldogs, who took over on their own 39-yard line. Fitzgerald went 3 for 3 on the drive and also added a 15-yard run as Mississippi State converted its third touchdown in 4 minutes, 11 seconds.
The Bulldogs are coming off a loss to then-No. 20 LSU in which they rallied from a 20-0 deficit only to lose 23-20. They also led South Alabama 17-0 at halftime in their opener but lost 21-20. Against South Carolina, Mississippi State led 24-0 at halftime before holding on for a 27-14 win.
“We play a good half here and a good half there,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve just got to string two good halves together and get rid of the terrible ones.”
Marquis Young ran for 125 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown in the first quarter that gave UMass a 7-3 lead. Jalen Williams caught two touchdown passes, and Bernard Davis and Sadiq Palmer each had one for the Minutemen.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs needed this game to replace Tulane on the schedule. UMass agreed as long as MSU came to New England first. The Minutemen will visit Starkville next year and again in 2020.
UMASS: You can’t say UMass, one of just four FBS independents, is afraid to schedule tough opponents. The Minutemen have now played two SEC teams and one from the Atlantic Coast Conference, along with Florida International.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: A week off before hosting Auburn.
UMASS: Tulane on the UMass campus in Amherst.