Indeed it was, as Mississippi State literally ground-out a victory over the host Wildcats in Commonwealth Stadium. The Bulldogs were not only able to celebrate Halloween Night with a SEC road win, they left with a 4-5 record and 2-3 mark in SEC play that keeps their hopes of a winning year and bowl berth alive. The Wildcats fell to 4-4, 1-4 SEC with the second home loss to State in as many chances.
Bulldog Coach Mullen was right about the final score being the vital statistic, but there was another set of digits that loomed plenty large. Senior RB Anthony Dixon battered both the Kentucky defense as well as the MSU record book with 252 rushing yards, not just the most of his career but the highest total ever by a Bulldog back. Dixon surpassed his friend Jerious Norwood’s previous mark of 247 yards set in 2005 against Houston.
In the process Dixon also tallied his second 1,000-yard season, with 1,001 through the eight games he’s played this senior season. Behind the big Dog the MSU offense was able to pound the Wildcats for 348 total rushing yards, as quarterbacks Tyson Lee and Chris Relf had 27 and 60 of their own.
Yet it was no surprise this was a game played mostly on the turf, featuring a pair of squads that rely on big-play runners. The difference is Dixon did his damage mostly between the tackles; where Kentucky relied on speedsters Derrick Locke (103 yards) and runner-receiver-thrower Randall Cobb or quarterback Morgan Newton dashing for the corners. Ironically, it was the pounder Dixon who completely out-ran all those Wildcat racehorses.
Kentucky won the toss and deferred, which worked out well initially as WR Leon Berry bobbled the kickoff at the goal and got only out to the ten-yard line. A flip to WR Chad Bumphis for ten yards dug the Dogs out a bit, and QB Tyson Lee found TE Marcus Green for another ten yards before the drive stopped at State’s 37. Heath Hutchins hit a 44-yard punt caught at the Wildcat 29.
The home team could not advance as Randall Cobb was caught by LB K.J. Wright for no gain on 3rd-and3. Ryan Tydlacka crushed his punt all the way to MSU’s 14-yard line, and after one first down—on a 14-yard catch and run by Dixon—Hutchins was punting again. This one just covered thirty yards and took an odd bounce…right to a Kentucky blocker. Gene McCaskill was able to get 14 yards back to State’s 48 before nicking the sideline.
With SS Charles Mitchell banged-up on the punt play, State’s subbed-defense left one Kat uncovered in the slot. Kentucky tried to take advantage with a lateral throw to Cobb, but he tried to run before the catch and LB Chris White fell on the loose ball. The play withstood review and the Bulldogs seized on their break with Dixon bursting for 37 yards on second down to the Wildcat 21. On third down Lee was rushed into throwing wide of RB Christian Ducre at the ten, so Derek DePasquale knocked a 33-yard field goal through at 4:23.
But DePasquale didn’t hit the kickoff as well, and a 21-yard return by Derrick Locke let UK start at their 41-yard line. Locke turned a second-down draw into a 19-yard gainer, and on third down quarterback Morgan Newton evaded pressure long enough to find La’Rod King on the sideline for 18 more yards. Locke took it the rest of the way on runs of seven and ten yards for the touchdown at 1:28 and 7-3 Kentucky lead.
An after-play personal foul spotted State on the 40-yard line and before the quarters changed the Bulldogs were already sitting on Kentucky’s ten-yard line. Lee snapped off 25 yards on an option-keeper, and Dixon netted ten and 15 more on consecutive carries. But Dixon was held to two total yards on another couple of tries, and an inside-route by WR Brandon McRae only got inside the two-yard line. State called time to talk, and went for the touchdown.
Lee rolled left and had both Ducre and Green on that side of the end zone but in-between was Sam Maxwell to make a leaping interception. Two Locke runs netted a Wildcat first down before DT Devin Jones sacked Newton on third down. Berry fair-caught at the Bulldog 35-yard line.
On 3rd-and-10 Lee went down the middle for Berry only to have Randall Burden get in front of the target and intercept. His return put the Wildcats in positive field position on State’s 41-yard line. Even after two rushes lost eight combined yards, State coverage broke down on the right sideline for a 20-yard catch and first down on the Dog 29. Jumping offsides on 3rd-and-9 made a much easier third down call with Newton keeping around left end for first down at the 15.
Newton called his own number on second down from the 11, too, and followed a wave of blockers into the end zone at 5:16 for the 14-3 lead.
Mississippi State changed quarterbacks for the ensuing series, starting at their 38-yard line. Chris Relf’s first play nearly was disastrous as well when the ball came loose after a seven-yard gainer. But he fell on the fumble, and on second down burst through left guard for 53 yards down to the Wildcat two. On second down out of a wishbone Dixon vaulted right guard for touchdown at 3:43.
The Bulldogs got the ball back after a three-and-out but the punt rolled to their 14-yard line, and even after Dixon moved the chains once a holding call pushed it back to the 18. So State tried to run the clock by running the ball, but Dixon cracked the door for Kentucky by going out of bounds once and use of two remaining timeouts meant a punt at 0:27.
Hutchins kicked it 40 yards but Cobb got the blocks, some of them even legal, and brought it back to the MSU 26-yard line before Hutchins pushed him out at 0:12. Newton scrambled out of bounds leaving six ticks and a 38–yard field goal that Lones Sieber punched through for a 17-10 halftime lead.
Moreover the Wildcats also got first turn of the second half with Cobb returning out to the 38. But on second down Alfonso Smith was tagged by State’s Mitchell with the ball popping loose and right into LB Jamar Chaney’s hands for possession at the UK 47-yard line. Dixon went to work with hard runs of eight, 17, nine, and seven yards, ramming the ball close enough for Ducre to hold it over the goal line at 11:48 for the tying touchdown.
Starting from their 35 the Wildcats got one first down on the ground, then another at State’s 34-yard line as CB Marcus Washington was flagged for interference. Locke countered for ten yards and with the Dogs crowding the line on first down a reverse to Cobb got the ball down to the 13. A false-start on the UK right guard cost five yards but Locke got ten on an option and Cobb made it first-and-goal from the three. He did the honors on a direct-snap dash of left tackle at 7:49 to put Kentucky back in front.
It took State two plays to answer, the first a eight-yard rumble by Dixon. With the Wildcats and everyone else for that matter looking for more of the same Lee was able to play-fake coverage cold as Wilder got behind his only defender. Lee’s heave was caught in-stride at the 20 and Wilder, who was almost interfered with by the downfield official, long-strode on into the end zone at 6:56 to re-tie the tally at 24-24.
The Bulldogs were off-sides on the kickoff, spotting Kentucky on the 39-yard line. On 3rd-and-5 Newton was run down two yards shy to dictate a punt caught by Berry at the 14.
Dixon immediately flipped the field with a middle-burst of 47 yards, but soon State faced 4th and a short two yards. Without taking time to talk, Lee sprinted out to a sideline and on a direct snap Dixon bulled ahead to the 30. On 2nd-and-11 Ducre successfully battled linebacker Danny Trevathan in the air for the Lee pass at the three-yard line, but landed badly and had to be helped off. Play resumed with Dixon bouncing around left end and inside the pylon for touchdown at 0:59 and a 31-24 Bulldog lead.
Cobb nearly evened it up instantly with his kickoff return, as Marvin Bure had to knock him out at State’s 42-yard line. On second down Newton had a receiver utterly open down the right sideline but threw short to the left side. The fourth quarter began with 4th-and-3 at the Bulldog 35 and there was little doubt Kentucky wasn’t going to kick. Instead Locke went round right end for 20 yards and only tripped himself at the 14.
With 4th-and-2 Moncell Allen squirmed for just enough inches to make it first-and-goal. Two Newton keepers netted nothing, so on third down he tried to throw but was caught by McPhee. His desperate toss was intercepted by Chaney at the nine-yard line to prevent any sort of fourth-down points play.
The Bulldogs weren’t able to score any more points themselves but did use up almost five clock minutes grinding just across midfield. Lee made a clutch throw to Bumphis for one move of chains and Dixon got another with a nine-yard rumble. A swing-pass on 3rd-down didn’t get the yard and Hutchins’ punt bounced into the end zone at 5:55.
Newton rose to repeated occasions now, looking like an old hand instead of a freshman. He converted 3rd-and-13 despite DE Nick Bell having a hand on him, finding Chris Matthews for 14 yards. On 3rd-and-6 he got time and King got open for 13 to the 48-yard line. It was Matthews again on 3rd-and-6 after Newton scrambled from one side to the other, this time for 17 yards as the clock wound inside two minutes. But having got to State’s 21-yard line the Wildcats’ ran out of steam. S Johnathan Banks deflected a throw for Locke; Newton found tight end T.C. Drake but linebacker White kept it to a five-yard play; and then the Dog broke up another throw to that same target.
On 4th-and-5 State poured right through the blocking, Newton stepped up but had nowhere to throw or go as Chaney and Company got the sack that sealed the victory. It was the last of a game-high 15 tackles for Chaney to go with his two turnovers collected.
State added 145 passing yards, all by Lee on 10-of-17 throwing, to finish with 493 total yards. For Kentucky, Newton was 11-of-18 with 119 yards, a pick, and three sacks though he did run for a net 39 yards. Cobb had just 17 yards on eight rushes and 32 yards on two catches, while his one pass try was not caught.
All stats that Mullen could savor as he and the Bulldogs flew back to Starkville through the Halloween night skies.