And there is not a lot the now former record holder can say about it, not even the legendary—of both deed and word—Moulds. Some 17 years after the three-year great set Mississippi State’s mark for touchdown catches with 17; and nine seasons after Justin Jenkins tied it up; it is Bumphis all by his lonesome atop the list. He re-wrote the record with his 27-yard grab from Tyler Russell in the third quarter, for the final Bulldog points of a 27-14 victory at Kentucky.
“It’s a big deal to get it out of the way, finally,” said Bumphis, who had been tied with those two State great for three weeks.
Even without any record-setting Bumphis was a great big deal this single day at Commonwealth Stadium. Of the 23 Russell throws caught by a Bulldog, nine ended up in Bumphis’ hands. That was as many grabs as his previous college high, against Alcorn State two years ago. But that was a home game and a lower-level opponent.
This was a SEC defense, albeit not the league’s best but still a conference opponent on their home field. And in three previous matchups with Kentucky, Bumphis had played a supporting State role with five total ball and 67 yards. This time he nearly doubled the catch-count and turned them into 104 yards as well as the touchdown.
Russell, who was 23-of-39 for 269 yards and a pair of scores, said it was not so much looking for Bumphis directly…though it often looked that way. “I just think it was the matchup. They guy was playing him outside a lot, so he broke in. He has an option route on that, if he’s playing inside he’ll work out. We were just on the same page.”
Maybe so. But on Bumphis’ biggest play he and his passer pulled out a page not seen much so far this season. Leading 20-7, State had picked up first down on the Wildcat 27 and called for a double-post pattern. “It’s actually designed to go to the outside receiver,” said slot-man Bumphis. “I don’t think I’ve caught that ball once in practice!” This wasn’t practice though and that was a good thing because the Kentucky defensive back certainly didn’t execute the way Nickoe Whitley or Corey Broomfield would have.
“The safety sat flat-footed and just let me run by him,” Bumphis said of his catch at the five-yard line and short strides into the end zone. It was his fourth touchdown against a SEC defense.
That outside-obsession by the Wildcat coverage also factored into later Bumphis catches that were almost as important as the touchdown. With the margin 13 points State wanted to burn clock and move chains in the fourth quarter.
Repeatedly on third downs Russell found guess-who coming out of the slot spot and cutting in front of a defender. “It was way they were playing us, the way they were giving the inside you had to take it,” Bumphis said. “Tyler kept putting it there, it’s just execution.”
Bumphis also finished Saturday with 122 career catches, which vaulted him from 7th to fourth on the State career list surpassing along the way Terrell Grindle, Mardye McDole, and yes Moulds again. His 1,723 yards now rank Bumphis 8th on that list. As Coach Dan Mullen has said, the senior season seems to lend Bumphis a sense of urgency…not that the receiver necessarily sees it that way.
“It’s not so much being more confident, but actually going out there and doing it,” Bumphis said. “I know what I’m capable of and what the offense can do. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it.” Of course it did not hurt the Bulldog gameplan that Kentucky left their defensive backs to take care of themselves while stacking the box against State’s ground game.
“That’s what they talked about all week, was how people run the ball on them. They wanted to stop that so we knew we had to come up big as wide receivers.” Arceto Clark (five catches, 62 yards) and Smith (3, 53) certainly did that. And Russell had enough time, or took it even when he oughtn’t have, to locate open targets on secondary reads, or third or fourth.
“We’ve got so much confidence in our receivers that we believe who ever the play is called it really doesn’t matter,” said Bumphis. “It’s just a matter of executing the play.”
The only real downside offensively, other than Smith getting stripped after a catch for State’s turnover, was the number of hits Russell absorbed. Not that they want their quarterback taking too much contact, Bumphis agreed, but…
“It shows a lot about him and how tough he is. You kind of expect it because if you watch him and see how much he puts into it, then he is going to go out there and fight with everything he has.”
The passer, receivers, blockers, runners, everyone will have to invest everything into the next SEC opponent. Tennessee comes to Scott Field next Saturday night, and the outcome will ripple through both the conference standings as well as post-season possibilities. Bumphis tried down-playing it as anything more than just the next game, but admitted the truth. This is big, really big for the Bulldogs.
“But the biggest thing we want is to get to Atlanta. Of course to get there you have to go through championship teams. We get a chance to go 6-0 next week.”
After, that is, talking a little bit to a certain former record-sharer…