For those who thought the 11 a.m. starting time was a bit strange, they quickly were treated to a host of very odd plays in the first half of Saturday’s Mississippi State 38-28 win over UL in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The first one occurred midway through the opening quarter. Trailing 7-0, UL faced a fourth-and-one from the Bulldogs’ 25 with one of the top preseason rushing attacks nationally. The play-call was a lateral pass to wide receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley that was fumbled for a 7-yard loss to waste a prime scoring opportunity.
The defensive line was the biggest question mark on UL’s roster exiting the spring season, largely because of injuries.
“There’s no question that’s what we were trying to do,” UL coach Billy Napier said of the double-pass try. “ We didn’t execute it very well. The players wanted to run it. I asked a few of them. Fourth-and-one was a go and we went for it. Again, it comes down to what we do.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with who we play, where we play, what color of jersey. It’s about the men in that room doing their job and executing the plan.”
On UL’s next possession, a 46-yard Rhys Burns punt inadvertently hit the leg of Bulldogs’ Taury Dixon and Cajuns’ deep snapper Paul Boudreaux recovered at the MSU 15 to set up a Elijah Mitchell 3-yard touchdown run.
The Cajuns’ next drive ended with a fumble on a second-and-10 pass attempt that apparently slipped out of Lewis’ hands for a 5-yard loss and a gift fumble recovered by the Bulldogs upon review. That set up a five-play, go-ahead touchdown drive for the Bulldogs.
“There’s no question about that,” Napier said. “We made mistakes. Certainly we made costly mistakes, but how did it affect us? It affected the scoreboard and the statistics. But I think from a mindset standpoint and a mental toughness standpoint, we proved we’ve made progress in those areas.”
Most fans are focused on the football side of college football.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough for one half, right before the first half ended, UL’s try to run out of the clock on fourth down was botched when Lewis took a quick knee with five seconds left.
That gave Mississippi State one gift play, which resulted in a 10-play pass completion, but no points.In all, it was a first half with five combined turnovers and a missed 27-yard field goal by MSU kicker Jordan Lawless.
Perhaps it was the 11 a.m. start.
Huge punt exchange
Apparently, not all 42-yard punts are created the same.
With the game still within reach at 28-14 late in the third quarter, Mississippi State punter Tucker Day delivered an impressive 42-yard punt that pulled up at the 1.
Three plays later, the Cajuns were forced to punt after gaining just eight yards. Burns’ 42-yard punt was a line drive that was returned 40 yards to the UL 11.
There was a lot of talk about improvement in Year 2 under UL coach Billy Napier during August training camp.
One play later, Bulldogs’ quarterback Tommy Stevens connected with Austin Williams for an 11-yard TD pass to give Mississippi State a commanding 35-14 lead with 13:07 left to play.
Special teams were a hit-and-miss proposition overall for the Cajuns, who did recover a fumble to set up a score on a punt and also got a 23-yard kickoff return to reach the MSU 48 late in the first half.
Then, midway through the fourth quarter, Day did it again with a 38-yard punt to the UL 1 with a two-touchdown lead.
Starting left guard Ken Marks left the game early in the second quarter. In his absence, the Cajuns utilized several different strategies, as the coaching staff predicted during camp.
One was moving left tackle Max Mitchell to guard and senior Rico Robinson back to tackle. Robinson had exited last season as the starter, but was didn’t start Saturday after the pregame depth chart read, “Mitchell or Robinson.”
Another option was using true freshman guard O’Cyrus Torrence, as promised.
He’s not the biggest guy on the team. Nor is he the fastest.
“Those are the things we talked about this morning at the staff meeting,” Napier said. “We were prepared for that.”
Napier revealed Marks had been battling a “banged-up knee” for several weeks, but had made significant progress.
“We’ll evaluate (Marks) going forward,” Napier said.
UL dropped the 0-45 against SEC team. … The 28 points was the most points scored against an SEC opponent since scoring 28 at Kentucky in 2015. … The 431 total yards was the most against an SEC foe since playing Ole Miss in 2017. … the 497 total yards by the Bulldogs marked the eighth time MSU’s offense exceeded 400 yards in two seasons under coach Joe Moorhead.