Season report card: Mississippi State

The 2012 grades are in for the Mississippi State Bulldogs:

OFFENSE: During the first seven games of the season, the Bulldogs displayed one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the SEC. During that span, Mississippi State was running for 180 yards per game and throwing for 236 yards. The Bulldogs were also scoring just under 37 points per game. Tyler Russell was one of the most efficient passers in the country and had just one interception during that time. Helping him was running back LaDarius Perkins, who was one of the SEC's top offensive weapons when it came to all-purpose yards. But things quickly changed once the Bulldogs reached the teeth of the season. Starting with the Alabama game on Oct. 27, the Bulldogs' offense fell flat, averaging just 21 points in the final six games of the season. The Bulldogs were held under 20 points in three of those games. Russell threw nine interceptions in the final six games and the run game became nonexistent in the second half of the season, as Mississippi State rushed for less than 100 yards four times in the last six games. In three of those games, the Bulldogs generated less than 50 yards on the ground. Russell finished the year with 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, but he capped the year with a 106-yard, four-interception performance in the loss to Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. Perkins finished the year with 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, while wide receiver Chad Bumphis had his best season as a Bulldog, catching a career-high 58 passes for a career-high 922 yards and 12 touchdowns. Grade: C

DEFENSE: Like Mississippi State's offense, the first seven games of the year were relatively good to the Bulldogs' defense. But games against much weaker opponents masked glaring issues that this team had on defense. There was hardly any sort of consistent pass rush from the Bulldogs, who finished the year with just 18 sacks (second-worst in the SEC), the front seven was gutted in the second half against the run, allowing an average of 196.5 yards in the last six games, and the secondary played uncharacteristically bad during the last month of the season. This defense ranked eighth in the SEC in yards allowed (387.4 per game) and surrendered 5.5 yards per play. During the season, the Bulldogs allowed more than 500 yards of offense three times, including giving up 693 yards in a 38-13 loss to Texas A&M. After giving up 30-plus points just once during the first seven games, the Bulldogs allowed 34 or more points in all five of their losses. There were a couple of bright spots, as Mississippi State tied LSU for the league lead and tied for sixth nationally with 33 takeaways. Cornerback Johnthan Banks won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, while linebacker Cameron Lawrence registered 120 tackles, including 10 for loss. Grade: C-

OVERALL: The Bulldogs were in play to win 10 games for the first time since 1999 after their 7-0 start, but that quickly faded away after a disastrous second half of the season. We saw two vastly different Mississippi State teams in 2012. The Bulldogs were outscored by at least 20 points in three of their four SEC losses and ended the year with a 34-20 loss to Northwestern. The regular season ended with a 41-24 loss to archrival Ole Miss, and Mississippi State missed out on winning nine games for the second time in a span of four years for the first time in school history. There's no question that Dan Mullen has done a tremendous job during his tenure in Starkville, especially with three straight winning seasons, but losing five of your last six games puts a major stain on the start of the season. Grade: C

Past grades: