No. 15 Mississippi St. 45, Middle Tennessee 3

LaDarius Perkins gave a quick shake and then accelerated through

a gigantic hole at the line of scrimmage.

After an evening of frustration, the Mississippi State running

back’s persistence finally paid off. The rest of the Bulldogs soon

followed his lead.

Perkins’ 64-yard touchdown run in the third quarter sparked a

second-half surge as No. 15 Mississippi State beat Middle Tennessee

45-3 on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium.

”It opened things up for us,” Perkins said. ”I made a couple

good cuts and took it to the house.”

Mississippi State led just 10-3 at halftime and was struggling

to move the ball in the third quarter before Perkins’ breakthrough

touchdown run. It was the first of three Bulldogs touchdowns in the

decisive third quarter.

Perkins finished with 125 yards rushing on 20 carries. He’s one

of two running backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have a

rushing touchdown in every game this season.

And he was one of many Bulldogs who had a big night.

Tyler Russell completed 17 of 21 passes for 191 yards and three

touchdowns while Johnthan Banks tied a school record with his 16th

career interception. Chris Smith caught a career-high seven passes

for 66 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bulldogs (7-0) have won nine straight, dating to last

season. Their latest victory set up an undefeated conference

showdown at No. 1 Alabama next weekend.

”For us, it’s the position we want to be in,” fourth-year

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. ”When I took this job,

when we took over this program, these were exactly the kind of

games we wanted to be in.”

Middle Tennessee (4-3) isn’t a big-name program, but it

certainly had Mississippi State’s attention after crushing

ACC-member Georgia Tech by three touchdowns on Sept. 29.

But the Blue Raiders couldn’t muster much of a challenge on

Saturday.

The Bulldogs were sharp on their first drive, moving 74 yards on

14 plays, capped by Russell’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Smith for

the 7-0 lead. They pushed that advantage to 10-0 later in the first

quarter on a 32-yard field goal by Devon Bell.

But the offense bogged down in the second quarter and Middle

Tennessee was able to cut MSU’s lead to 10-3 after a 32-yard field

goal by Carlos Lopez.

Mississippi State’s struggles continued until midway through the

third quarter, when Perkins burst through the line for the 64-yard

score. It was the longest touchdown run of his career, and it

sparked the Bulldogs to what turned into an easy victory.

Banks picked off a pass from Logan Kilgore in the third quarter

and returned it to the MTSU 25-yard line. The interception tied the

school mark set by Walt Harris. Banks has four interceptions this

season.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior injured his left knee after the

play and didn’t return. There were a few nervous moments from the

crowd as trainers looked at the injury, but fans broke into

applause after he walked off the field without help.

Banks said after the game that he was ”fine.”

”It was scary, but I’ll be all right,” he said.

Mississippi State was playing so well at that point, there was

no need for Banks. Russell hit Smith on an 11-yard touchdown on the

ensuing drive and later found Robert Johnson for a 23-yard score to

stretch the Bulldogs’ lead to 31-3 by the end of the third

quarter.

Russell continued his string of efficient performances. The

junior has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only one interception

this season. He had nearly as many touchdown passes (three) as

incompletions (four) on Saturday.

”We started fast, then got sloppy, then picked it up,” Russell

said. ”We know we’ve got to play for four quarters against

Alabama.”

Middle Tennessee was playing its first game without injured

running back Benny Cunningham, who averaged 120 yards rushing and

had scored 11 touchdowns through five games. Without him, the Blue

Raiders couldn’t reach the end zone. They were outgained

446-305.

Kilgore completed 16 of 25 passes for 159 yards and one

interception.

”I loved the effort,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said. ”I

told the guys afterwards that I thought they competed their tails

off to the very end. We were just outmanned at times.”

Jordan Parker had 66 yards rushing for Middle Tennessee, which

is 6-37 against teams from the six BCS conferences.

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