The Mississippi State Bulldogs (2-1, 1-1) proved their bite is meaner than their bark Saturday night, marching into Nashville and stifling a Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2) offense that gained just 162 total yards en route to a 15-3 upset over the Commodores. It was Vanderbilt’s second straight defeat, having been outscored 38-12 in that stretch.
“The best way I can say this is we got it handed to us tonight,” said Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson. “They came out and [were] more physical than we were, executed better than [us]…played better than we did. You have to give a lot of credit to Mississippi State. They came in, had a good plan, and executed it.”
A big part of Mississippi State’s plan was to run the ball proficiently against a stout Vanderbilt defense, and they were able to do just that. The Bulldogs, led by standout junior running back Anthony Dixon’s 123 rushing yards, gained 341 yards of offense and put the game away on senior quarterback Tyson Lee’s 22-yard dash to the end zone with 3:20 left in regulation.
“We didn’t help our defense out very much with our offense,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to win games like that…Really hard.”
Indeed, a ferocious Bulldog defensive front stifled Vanderbilt’s rushing attack, holding the same Commodore offense that rushed for 433 yards two weeks ago to a mere 33 yards on 29 carries. True freshman running back Zac Stacy left the game with an injury, further depleting the backfield, but the Commodores did not feel that was an excuse for their subpar offensive output.
“It was extremely frustrating,” said redshirt senior center Bradley Vierling. “[Mississippi State] was loading up the box a lot, bringing a lot of pressure with their front eight or nine…The offensive line did not do its part and the offense didn’t do its part.”
Vanderbilt’s passing game didn’t fare any better than the run game, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Larry Smith (12-32, 124 yards, 1 INT) struggling to hold onto the ball at times and failing to get the offense moving on a consistent basis. According to Johnson, however, this was far from just Smith’s fault.
“Either we threw it poorly or, if we threw it well, we dropped it, “Johnson said. “The other times, they were sacking us. We couldn’t get the running going because they were bringing so many people and we couldn’t hurt them with the pass enough to get them out of that…
“Larry would sit in there, throw a good pass, and somebody would throw it on the ground.”
In spite of the disappointing loss, the Commodores do not plan to let this defeat linger.
“After tonight, a quarter of our season is gone,” Vierling said. “You’ve got to look forward to next week. If you stay back and pout about a game you just lost, you’re going to lose the next one...You can’t do that. You have to stay positive, stay optimistic, and that’s what we’re going to do.”