Bulldogs Put 47-24 Hurting On Houston

Vick Ballard

Dan Mullen knew his team wasn't going to shut Houston out. But he figured the Bulldogs could eventually knock the Cougars out if the took care of the ball, ground the clock, and converted opportunities into their own points. It had to be fun watching that plan come together as it did in Mississippi State's 47-24 win.

Mississippi State put its particular strengths, including sheer strength, to best use Saturday night in overpowering the host Cougar. With their non-conference victory the Bulldogs improved to 4-2 overall and, halfway through the season, moved a significant step closer to the post-season goal of bowl eligibility. Houston walked away 3-2 after their 18-game home winning streak was snapped.

As well as stomped and mutilated. This was billed as a matchup of a ground-pounding SEC program against a higher-flying CUSA squad, last team with the ball having best chance of winning. Well, State did have last turn, but by then the Bulldogs were running out the clock and padding a major margin in possession time that came very close to two-to-one. Not that the Cougars mind less time with the ball given their quick-striking capability. The difference this time was every minute, every State snap added up to a physical beating Houston wasn't equipped to handle.

It also led to the remarkable final stat sheet where the running team got more yards that way, 409, than Houston's 356 passing yards. All five Bulldog offensive touchdowns were via rushes, three by TB Vick Ballard and one each for TB LaDarius Perkins and QB Chris Relf. Ballard had a particularly big night with 134 yards on just 14 carries, including a 54-yard gallop that ironically didn't conclude in the end zone.

No matter. Because the SEC's leading scorer left with 18 more points to his credit and 12 touchdowns on his first State season. The program record is only 16 scores in a season.

With the ground game so efficient Relf (96 rushing yards himself) needed throw just 14 passes and complete seven for 57 yards. Relf did not finish the evening though, as a wrong fall early in the third quarter left him gasping and soon sidelined. He could have returned but with a healthy lead by then Mullen let Tyler Russell take it home with 5-of-9 passing and 72 yards. WR Chad Bumphis had another big evening with 79 yards on seven catches.

Cougar quarterback David Piland made his very first college game one to remember in all ways save the outcome. Taking over for an injured All-American, the rookie handled himself admirably with 30-of-57 passing, 301 yards, and two touchdowns. But, also two interceptions, and one of those might have been a back-breaker just before halftime when CB Corey Broomfield stepped in front of a telegraphed toss and returned it 27 yards for a 33-10 intermission margin. Broomfield had the other pick of Piland, too. Terrance Broadway, who handled the previous Cougar game, came in late and completed both passes for 55 yards and a meaningless touchdown.

In fact Broadway was actually his team's top rusher with 18 net yards, emphasizing the game's contrasting styles.

Houston won the toss and opted to receive, with Carrier returning out to his 36-yard line. It took just under three minutes for them to put up the initial points on a eight-play drive. Piland hit passes of 13 and 11 yards immediately, and only once did a snap lose ground. That was when Michael Hayes got dropped four yards behind the line of scrimmage. It wasn't much of a setback because on the next hike Kierrie Johnson caught the screen going right-to-left and no Dog defender was near to prevent his reaching the pylon at 12:02.

Starting from the 30 yard line the Bulldogs netted one first down as Relf found Bumphis for ten yards on second down. A couple of hurried incompletions ended things at the 45, but Heath Hutchins' punt was a line-drive that Pat Edwards mishandled and had jarred free by Marvin Bure. Eventually Aaron Feld came up with the loose ball at the seven-yard line, and Ballard punched it across on second down from five yards out at 9:25 for the 7-7 tie.

Piland didn't have a third-down on his opening series; he faced three on turn-two and converted a pair with completions of 14 and 24 yards down to the Bulldog 27. There a pair of deflections and fast support on a screen forced the Cougars to attempt a 42-yard field goal. Matt Hogan left it wide right giving MSU another emotional boost.

State took over on their 25 and Ballard needed a dozen seconds to get around right end and dash 54 yards. Relf was going to throw, then left the pocket for 16 yards to set up first-and-goal; then he completed the fast drive at 6:20 for a 14-7 State lead.

The Dog defense forced a three-and-through with much better pressure and a deflection by DE Pernell McPhee. Bumphis fielded Houston's first punt at his 16. On 3rd-and-2 TB LaDarius Perkins got the ball and a very generous spot by the SEC crew for an unmeasured first down. Perkins made a fine leaping sideline grab for another move of chains, to State's 46. After a break to help C J.C. Brignone off the field, Relf connected with Bumphis for 12, then ran for 27 down to the Cougar 11-yard line.

A false start by the tight end made it second down at the 12, but Ballard shed a bunch of tacklers en route to his second touchdown with 0:13 left in the period. The first period, which wasn't done yet. Houston left themselves vulnerable by blocking fouls on the kickoff and a false start. Then Piland tried to throw a bomb out of the end zone which was broken up near midfield; and worse, lineman Jaryd Anderson was caught holding McPhee behind the goal, meaning a safety and 23-7 scoreboard.

A quarter that had already consumed over a half-hour needed one more untimed play to conclude due to the penalty points. Houston's free-kick was short and fielded by WR Chris Smith giving State starting position at the 30-yard line to finally begin the second period. The Dogs didn't take full advantage but PK Sean Brauchle was able to make it 26-7 by sticking a 47-yard field goal at 13:47.

His kickoff wasn't so good, out of bounds giving Cougars the 40-yard line. Holding on a completion cost net-yard, and LB. K.J. Wright's rush foiled a third-and-long. But State was called for roughing, not running into, the punter for a free first down just over midfield. Houston seemingly seized the second chance with a naked screen to Hayes down to the 21-yard line and a Nickoe Whitley horse-collar stop threatening for more. Except the Cougars were also called for two separate holds, meaning nothing officially happened.

And on 3rd-and-7 McPhee stuck Piland on the low throw for another Cougar punt, fair-caught by WR Leon Berry at the 15. Berry gained 13 on a reverse run but cohort WR Arceto Clark was holding so it was first down at the 17 now. Relf and Bumphis hooked up for one first down, and Bumphis nearly converted 3rd-and-11 with some nice moves but came up a few feet short. Hutchins' punt was caught at the other 29 with over half a quarter left.

Houston used a chunk of that to go put up some points with several impressive conversions. Piland saw Tyron Carrier open at the 44-yard line, and a couple more connections made it first down on the Dog 44. Carrier again came through on 3rd-and-10 with a sideline snare worth another 19 yards. Then it was Justin Johnson's turn for a grab at State's 14-yard line. Finally the Cougars had one third down too many and with Wright leading the charge Piland had to throw it into the stands. The 34-yard field goal was good at 4:51.

Relf netted a first down at the 38 but on 3rd-and-2 Ballard got a bad spot. The Dogs wanted to go for it and after a 2:28 timeout Mullen let them, with Relf bursting up the middle for ten yards. State curiously used a timeout and thus had to punt at 1:11, though Hutchins was run-into for a rekick that got into the end zone.

That curious timeout actually played into State's benefit because on 2nd-and-6 Houston tried what ought to have been a relatively safe flats-throw. Except Broomfield read it all the way, stepping in front of the intended target at the 27 yard line and out-running Piland to the goal line at 0:23. So the Bulldogs ran into the locker room with a 33-10 advantage.

State got the half-opening kickoff only to have Berry carted off with a serious ankle injury. Two snaps later it was Relf walking off on his own steam after a eight-yard ramble and slow rising. Russell was ready, because after Ballard moved the marker to the Cougar 45 he found Bumphis for a long complete and additional run to Houston's 12-yard line. Ballard punched it through the opening middle the rest of the way at 13:00 even.

Down 40-10 now the Cougars came out slinging and advanced to their 48 with third down where Piland tried to fire a bullet into traffic. It was Broomfield getting inside position again for the pick, though he fumbled on the return and comrade CB Johnthan Banks had to recover. Russell hit Smith for a first down, Ballard rushed 11 yards for another, and on fourth down at the 14-yard line Brauchle kicked it…right into the hands of Cougar Wesley Scourten.

That put some spark back in the UH offense as Piland struck for 11, 14, and 12 yards while Bryce Beall and Hayes ran with fresh fervor. With first down on the MSU 17, Edwards caught the square-out and shed tackle attempts by LB Emmanuel Gatling and SS Charles Mitchell to score at 6:11.

Holding on the return stuck State at the 18-yard line, though Perkins quickly punched out gainers of 11 and 13 yards. Play-action gave Russell time to roll and find WR Brandon Heavens at the Cougar 28. TB Robert Elliott was nailed for a three-yard loss on third down so Brauchle got another chance…and it too was blocked again by Scourten with a return to the 43-yard line. Piland hit Edwards for 12 on 3rd-and-10, then shook off a drop inside the MSU five-yard line by Edwards to convert 4th and-9 with a throw to Smith. Edwards produced ten more before the quarters changed with Houston on the 20-yard line. But on 4th-and-1 the Cougars tried to ram Beall through right guard and a pack of Dogs led by Mitchell and Wright caught him for loss of four yards.

That was essentially the game though both sides would tack on extra touchdowns. Taking over on downs Russell directed a 85-yard drive of eleven plays, converting three third downs including a 20-yard flip to Perkins that the tailback turned into a 47-17 lead at 7:08. Broadway entered to direct a 73-yard drive, running 23 yards on 3rd-and-14 to keep it moving and finding Isaiah Sweeney behind CB Louis Watson in the end zone at 4:36.

Safety Mitchell led State with 13 tackles and MLB Chris White added 11, while the lone MSU sack was scored by reserve DE Shane McCardell. Of course McPhee's safety-inducing rush was better than a sack for the two points provided. Broomfield recorded his third career pick-six and eighth interception in just two college seasons.

But victory came at a cost with Berry lost for at least the remaining regular season. Relf could have played if necessary, while Brignone was held out in hopes he can be able to play next week at Florida.

State has now scored 40 or more points in all three non-conference wins.

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