This past Saturday was one filled with nerves for the Mississippi State University fan base. After barely evading a loss in their home opener, things looked rocky for the Bulldogs, but head coach Mike Leach and his crew seemed to use that as a rallying call in their latest victory against the Wolfpack of North Carolina State University.
Before the game, tensions were high, with even members of the staff here at the Reflector predicting a loss to the Wolfpack, who had just throttled the University of South Florida in their week one matchup via a score of 45-0.
Those tensions were relieved about as quickly as possible, though, as sophomore wide receiver and Philadelphia High School alum Tulu Griffin returned the opening kickoff the length of the field to open up the action for MSU, something that hasn't been done since 2015 against the University of Southern Mississippi. Tulu set the tone, and the rest of the bulldogs followed suit after a slow start on the offensive side of the ball.
Other than an NC State field goal, the two teams were at a stalemate for most of the first half, with both defenses "tackling well," as coach Leach would later claim.
The breakthrough for the Bulldogs, though, would come in the form of a 21-yard touchdown pass to Malik Heath on an extremely well executed fade route to set the score at 14-3, MSU's lead, after a successful extra point attempt. This was Heath's first game back with the team this season, after missing the week one game against Louisiana Tech University. Going forward, Heath looks to provide a downfield target this offense desperately needs.
MSU then went into the locker room for halftime with a 2-score lead and let the Famous Maroon Band take the field for a 9/11 tribute that mere words cannot justify. This just added to the nostalgia of the first big out-of-conference game of the season for MSU.
Mississippi State University continued their offensive performance midway through the third quarter with a 4-yard touchdown pass to none other than sophomore standout Jaden Walley followed by another made extra point to put the score at a commanding 21-3.
After a garbage time touchdown from NC State and a last minute field goal from MSU, the final score rested at 24-10, which sealed a much needed second win for MSU.
One of the true unsung heroes of the game, however, was sophomore running back Dillon Johnson. He finished the game with 18 rushing yards and 70 receiving yards out of the backfield, combining for a grand total of 88 all-purpose yards, most of which came in some very key positions for the Bulldogs. He attested this to his "one play at a time" mentality after the game.
Jett Johnson was another key player on the defensive side of the ball in some relief effort at the linebacker spot after totaling one pass breakup, a forced fumble and nine total tackles. He had our quote of the game afterwards when asked about his approach to this big game.
"... We knew it was going to be a challenge for us … we just had to come in and, as coach Leach says, give fanatical effort on every play, come in with high intent and bad intentions."
Johnson and his defensive unit will have another test next week, as they bring those "bad intentions" to Memphis to face the Tigers for a chance at a 3-0 record before heading into SEC play.