The Mississippi State football team asserted itself early on offense Saturday and easily kept Southern Miss at a comfortable distance in a 38-15 victory despite playing without quarterback Tommy Stevens in the second half.
Stevens was perfect in the early going as MSU darted down the field on a five-play, 61-yard drive. He capped the drive off with a 28-yard TD toss to Osirus Mitchell to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead just over 5 minutes into the game.
Stevens completed his first nine passes of the game and finished 9-of-10 for 105 yards and two touchdowns before leaving late in the second half with a shoulder injury.
True freshman Garrett Shrader proved steady in Stevens’ place, completing 7-of-11 passes for 71 yards.
Junior Keayton Thompson, who rejoined the team this week after considering transferring, didn’t receive snaps in the game and it appeared that Logan Burnett was the third-string QB. Thompson was not prepared to enter the game when Shrader lost his helmet at one point.
Junior running back Kylin Hill again proved to be the star on offense for the Bulldogs, running 14 times for 125 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s a really good back,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “I knew Kylin was good in high school. A couple of times we had him in the backfield and he just willed it forward and got the first down. I certainly grabbed his neck before I got off the field and I thought he played a whale of a game. He ran the ball physical. We’ve got to wrap him up, and we had opportunities. But give the young man credit, he played a whale of a game.”
Hill hurdled a USM defender at one point in the first half and a Golden Eagle walked up to him and said, “You ain’t got to do us like that.”
To which the Columbus native replied, “I got do what I gotta do to get to the league.”
USM’s defense struggled early in the game, allowing the Bulldogs to take a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“They were getting rid of the ball quick and they beat us in a few one-on-one battles,” Hopson said. “They got the big play (on the first TD) and moved the chains a couple of times, and kept drives alive. I thought we settled down a little bit defensively and played a little bit better in the late second through the third.”
MSU out-gained USM by a relatively slim margin of 386-344, but that wasn’t much comfort for Hopson.
“Guess what, stats don’t matter,” he said. “The bottom line is they made plays when they had to. That’s one thing that we’ve got to do.”
USM (1-1) will travel to Troy for a 5 p.m. game on Sept. 14. MSU (2-0) hosts Kansas State at 11 a.m. that same day.
Of USM, MSU coach Joe Moorhead said, “That’s a team that will win a lot of games.”
Moment of panic
The Mississippi State offense was rolling for much of the second half, but there was reason for concern late in the second quarter when junior running back Kylin Hill was helped to the sideline with an ankle injury and Stevens was later sent to the locker room with an apparent shoulder injury.
Hill was back on the field to start the second half, but Stevens’ day was over with MSU holding a 21-0 lead.
Stevens stood on the sideline in the second half, but he had taken his pads off by then.
Moorhead said that Stevens will be evaluated on Sunday.
When given time to find his receivers, USM redshirt junior quarterback Jack Abraham showed off nice accuracy. He completed 18-of-26 passes for 234 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown toss to Jaylond Adams and a 65-yarder to Jordan Mitchell. He also had a pair of late interceptions.
Mitchell had six catches for 94 yards and Jones pulled in five passes for 73 yards.
“I thought the receivers ran some good routes and caught the ball well,” Abraham said. “It was unfortunate we had the two interceptions late, but we were trying to push the ball down the field. We have some good things to build off of. It was good to see Jaylond and Jordan make some plays.”
Bulldogs sitting out
Mississippi State had five players who sat out due to violations of team rules: linebacker Willie Gay Jr., receiver Devonta Jason, offensive lineman Kwatrivous Johnson and safety Marcus Murphy.
MSU did not disclose the reason for the suspensions, but the program was placed under NCAA probation last month following an investigation into academic violations.
Senior receiver De’Michael Harris appears set to take over a new role for the Golden Eagles after receiving six carries for 49 yards as a running back.
Harris sat out the season-opening 38-10 win over Alcorn State for undisclosed reasons.
“Since (Trivenskey Mosley is out), I think we’ll see more of De’Michael in the backfield,” Hopson said. “He definitely played a great game today. He gives us a dimension in the backfield.”
Redshirt junior Kevin Perkins finished as USM’s leading rusher with five carries for 51 yards as USM ran 27 times for 110 yards as a team.
Special teams letdown
After the special teams unit proved to be the main bright spot in last week’s win over Alcorn State, Southern Miss struggled badly in that area against MSU.
Freshman kicker Andrew Stein missed a 36-yard field goal attempt in the first half and punter Matt Bromell had some issues in his first action. Bromell had to hurry his first attempt when a bad snap hit the dirt, booting the ball 16 yards down field to set up MSU for its 61-yard scoring drive to begin the game.
Bromell had two punts, averaging 22.5 yards. Zac Everett replaced Bromell and averaged 41.7 yards on three punts.