Tennessee Stat Book
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State is on hallowed ground it hasn’t trod since 1999.
Tennessee seems to be headed down the same path as the past couple of seasons.
With a 41-31 victory over the Vols Saturday night before a rocking, ringing, sold-out crowd of 57,831 at Davis Wade Stadium, the 19th-ranked Bulldogs improved to 6-0 for the first time since going 8-0 in 1999.
Tennessee, much like at Georgia two weeks ago, was late to the party, spotting Mississippi State a 27-14 halftime lead before making things interesting.
In the end, though, the Vols (3-3, 0-3 SEC) lost to a ranked opponent for the 14th consecutive time since a Halloween 2009 win over South Carolina.
Derek Dooley, coaching from the press box booth four days after hip surgery, is 0-13 against ranked opponents.
The Vols outplayed Mississippi State much of the second half and trailed 34-31 after Tyler Bray’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Ben Bartholomew with 5:22 to play.
Tennessee needed a defensive stop to get the ball back.
The only time the Vols touched the ball, however, was on a hopeless kickoff return after the Bulldogs tacked on a game-icing touchdown — Tyler Russell’s fourth-down, 9-yard pass to Malcolm Johnson with 9 seconds to play.
Mississippi State had done little offensively in the second half but mustered a clock-eating, 12-play drive to keep Tennessee’s offense on the sideline.
Russell made big throws all during the first half, including a pair of touchdowns to tight end Marcus Green.
He finished 23-of-37 for 291 yards passing with no interceptions.
The only turnovers came from the Vols.
Bray was intercepted late in the first half. More costly was Devrin Young’s fumble at the UT 30 with 9:12 to play.
Tennessee trailed only 27-24 at the time, but State capitalized on the short field. Russell hit Chad Bumphis for 25 yards to the 5, then LaDarius Perkins rumbled in from the 1.
UT was in a 34-24 hole with 7:58 to play. They got one score back on the pass to Bartholomew, but didn’t get a chance to try for another.
In snapping a six-game losing streak to Tennessee, State outgained the Vols 450-361.
Cordarrelle Patterson was UT’s best weapon, returning a kickoff 98 yards for a score to keep the Vols alive in a listless first half. He also caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Bray in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 27-24.
Bray finished 13-of-24 for 148 yards in the air.
Tennessee ruled the third quarter, cutting into Mississippi State’s 27-14 halftime lead with a Michael Palardy field goal and Patterson’s second touchdown.
The Bulldogs ruled the first half, holding the ball for nearly 23 minutes to 7 for Tennessee and piling up 19 first downs to the Vols’ five.
Tennessee was probably fortunate to get out of the half no worse off than trailing 27-14.
The Bulldogs moved the football virtually at will. Josh Robinson’s 10-yard run for a score complemented the Russell-to-Green combination.
Devon Bell kicked field goals of 31 and 24 yards, then missed from 38.
The Bulldogs didn’t punt until inside the final 30 seconds of the half. They hadn’t scored 27 points in the first half against an SEC team since 1994.
By the half, State had 293 yards of offense to Tennessee’s 97.
Tennessee’s defense at least got a partial stop on State’s opening drive, forcing a field goal.
Then Bray led a crisp, 10-play drive that ended on Rajion Neal’s 6-yard touchdown for a 7-3 lead.
The Vols didn’t do anything crisp the rest of the half. They shuffled through three three-and-out possessions, then Bray threw an interception to end the half.
If Patterson hadn’t reeled off the serpentine kickoff return, the game might have been out of reach by intermission.
State learned its lesson with Patterson. On the kickoff following a Bell field goal for a 20-14 lead, the Bulldogs blooped the kick and recovered at the UT 33.
Four plays later, Russell and Reed connected for a 7-yard TD to go up 27-14 with 7:46 left in the half.
That’s where it stayed at halftime. Bell missed a field goal and Tennessee never threatened.
Neal was injured in the third quarter, finishing with 40 rushing yards. Young had 58 on 13 carries and Patterson 57 on three.