Midseason report: Mississippi State

The season started ominously enough for Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC) with a 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State in Houston, and the Bulldogs also lost senior quarterback Tyler Russell in that game to a concussion. He missed the next three games, but returned to share quarterback duties with Dak Prescott the last two weeks.

It’s been a mixed bag for the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball. At times, they’ve looked explosive on offense, although the passing game has been limited. They’ve also had stretches where they’ve been stingy on defense, but gave up a late touchdown drive to lose 24-20 at Auburn and were torched for 28 fourth-quarter points in a 59-26 loss to LSU at home.

Injuries on the offensive line have been a factor, and losing starting free safety Jay Hughes to a torn Achilles in the opener was also a big blow to the defense. The Bulldogs avoided disaster last week when they held on to beat Bowling Green 21-20 at home. A loss there could have really made for a long season.

Finding some consistency on offense will be critical the rest of the way. One of the bright spots the last two weeks has been senior running back LaDarius Perkins returning to form. He had 104 all-purpose yards against Bowling Green. Perkins was plagued by a nagging ankle injury to start the season and totaled just 109 rushing yards in his first four games after rushing for more than 1,000 yards a year ago.

Since starting 7-0 last season and soaring to No. 11 in the polls, the Bulldogs are just 4-8 in their last 12 games. And in SEC play, they’re 1-6 during that drought. The second half of the schedule this season is wicked with a three-game gauntlet in November against South Carolina (away), Texas A&M (away) and Alabama (home). The Bulldogs have had three straight winning seasons under Dan Mullen, but making it four in a row could be a stretch.

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Prescott. Without the multi-dimensional Prescott, the Bulldogs would have really been in trouble, especially with Russell going down with the concussion. Prescott, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore, leads the team in rushing with 457 yards and eight touchdowns, and he’s also thrown for 890 yards. His two touchdown runs, including a 75-yard jaunt, were the difference in Mississippi State’s narrow escape last week.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Benardrick McKinney. After tying for second in the nation among freshmen last season with 102 total tackles, McKinney has again been the heartbeat of that Mississippi State defense from his middle linebacker position. He leads the team with 36 total tackles and is the guy first-year coordinator Geoff Collins counts on to be both the stopper for the Bulldogs as well as their leader. True freshman tackle Chris Jones also deserves a shout-out. He has four tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries and has been one of the league’s more impressive newcomers.