CATEGORY: FOC College Football
HED:Ho-hum, defense wins game
By Parrish Alford
MEMPHIS - The Mississippi State defensive players expected nothing less.
They felt like they had to win the game.
"During two-a-days, Coach (Joe Lee) Dunn (defensive coordinator) told us we're going to have to win the games and not to depend on anybody else," said Kendall Roberson, a sixth-year senior who returned to the starting lineup Saturday after missing all of 1999 with torn knee ligaments.
"We were getting frustrated with the offense, because we'd run off the field, and we were going right back on," he said. "But we knew we weren't going to get beat unless we gave up the big play."
Instead the MSU defense made the big plays with a mix of age and wisdom and youthful exuberance.
Cornerback Fred Smoot, a member of six preseason All-America teams, had an All-American day with an interception to set up State's first points, four tackles and two pass break-ups.
Smoot's interception came in the second quarter on a Kevin Anglin pass intended for Ryan Johnson. A 24-yard return set the Bulldogs up at the Memphis 24, and three plays later Scott Westerfield banged home a 43-yard field goal.
It marked the fourth straight game in which Smoot has had an interception, and the 13th straight game in which the Bulldogs have had an interception.
Smoot's performance was expected.
Linebacker Mario Haggan was not exactly a surprise, but the redshirt sophomore from Clarksdale got his first chance to shine as a starter and did not disappoint.
Haggan had the line of the game: 12 tackles (game-high), two tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one interception, to passes defensed and two sacks.
"We love hearing about the talent we lost on defense," Haggan said. "We knew we had talent coming back. We weren't worried about it. It was the media that was worried about it."
The four key returning defensive lineman were all in the starting lineup. Ellis Wyms and Dorsett Davis lined up as the ends, and Willie Blade and Toby Golliday played as the tackles.
Golliday had five tackles - two behind the line - and two sacks.
It was Haggan's vicious sack of Neil Suber in the final minutes that forced a fumble and led to Dicenzo Miller's 6-yard touchdown to ice a game played in 100-plus temperatures.
Each of State's 17 points came after a Memphis turnover - there were four - and the Bulldogs drove a total of 29 yards for their scores.
"Everybody has ups and downs. We'll take things one game at a time, and we'll get better," running back Dicenzo Miller said. "Our defense kept us in position to win the game and put us in spots to score.
"Thank God for them."