NEW ORLEANS • It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.
Mississippi State squeaked by its season-opening opponent Louisiana 38-28 inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday thanks three touchdowns by Tommy Stevens, 197 rushing yards from Kylin Hill and five turnovers on defense.
“Ultimately at the end of the day it’s not about one phase or one unit, it’s about us playing together as a team,” said MSU coach Joe Moorhead. “It’s going to be old school Mississippi State football. We’re going to have to find a way on a weekly basis to fight, scratch and claw like junkyard dogs to win football games. I think we did that today.”
The Bulldogs rolled up 497 yards on offense and were able to stay balanced for the most part, something MSU struggled to do in Moorhead’s first season last year.
“We wanted to strike a balance with what we wanted to do offensively with our ability to run the ball and pass the ball successfully,” Moorhead said. “I think we took a positive step in that regard. We ran for (261) and passed for (236) and aside from the one turnover, protected it pretty well. I think we were a little more explosive.”
In his first career start, Stevens – a graduate transfer from Penn State – completed 20 of 30 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while also adding a 4-yard rushing score to put the Bulldogs up 21-14 at halftime.
“I thought that we had the running game going the whole game,” Stevens said. “It definitely wasn’t anything that we wanted to get away from. It’s a good start and we’ve got to continue to work and grow off of this.”
Hill had a career-high 197 yards on 27 carries and scored once on a 5-yard run in the third quarter. Nick Gibson also added a touchdown on the ground, scoring from 8-yards out early in the second quarter.
Sharing the wealth
Nine different players caught passes for Mississippi State, led by Osirus Mitchell with six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Mitchell’s scoring grab came on the game’s opening drive when Stevens found him wide open from 31-yards out.
“Versus man coverage on that play, the ball comes to every time,” Mitchell said. “So I knew for a fact the ball was coming to me. I didn’t know it was going to be that easy, but I knew the ball was coming.”
The Bulldogs had to overcome some adversity along their offensive line. Left guard Dareuan Parker left the game with injury on the first play of the second quarter and center Darryl Williams went down just before halftime and neither returned.
Walk-on center Evans Wilkerson snapped a majority of the second half but he too was injured on MSU’s final drive.
Moorhead did not have an update on the extent of their injuries after the game.
Mississippi State led the nation in scoring and total defense last season but surrendered 431 yards and four touchdowns to the Ragin’ Cajuns, two of which came in the fourth quarter after leading 35-14. The Bulldogs did create four turnovers but only accumulated three tackles for loss and one sack.
“I told the guys after the game that Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat and Johnathan Abram aren’t coming back,” Moorhead said. “We’re not that defense and we need to find our own identity and find a way to make plays.”