MOBILE, Ala. – For two weeks in a row, MSU defensive end Preston Smith has won the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Week Award. With his performance on Saturday, Smith apparently didn’t want to surrender his grip on the award without a fight. Smith, who played a part in defensive touchdowns in each of the first two games, made his biggest impact by rushing the passer at South Alabama.
Smith, a 6-foot-6, 267-pound defensive end out of Stone Mountain, Georgia, was dominant against the Jaguars, reaching USA QB Brandon Bridge twice for sacks. Smith’s second sack, late in the third quarter, forced a fumble that was recovered by MSU LB Benardrick McKinney. Smith finished his day with two sacks, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal, his second of the season.
“I finally joined the sack club,” said Smith with a smile after the game. “I’ve been close all season, but I finally got there. But really, our defense just focused this week on getting a pass rush, making sure we maintained our assignments and got to the quarterback. It felt good.”
Mississippi State tailback Josh Robinson, who cemented himself as Mississippi State’s starter in the offseason, continues to shine in that role early in the season. Robinson, who entered Saturday with 217 yards on the ground and a touchdown through two games, found the end zone twice on Saturday and maintained his average of six yards per carry. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry and finished his day with 78 yards on 12 carries, helping the Bulldogs eclipse the 200-yard mark on the ground for the second consecutive week.
Robinson also caught one pass, a 39-yarder, that set up the Bulldogs’ first touchdown of the game.
While Mississippi State’s defense allowed yardage in the passing game at times, South Alabama could manage nothing on the ground. A week after rushing for over 100 yards in a win at Kent State, the Jaguars were stuffed from the outset by Mississippi State’s front seven.
The Bulldogs’ defense limited South Alabama to just 57 rushing yards on 27 carries, and 33 of those yards came against MSU’s third-string defense in the game’s final five minutes.
“We took last week personally,” said Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney. “We gave up too many yards, too many big plays. So we came out focused today, focused on making sure that didn’t happen again.”
Victimized by a 42-yard pass from quarterback Brandon Bridge to wide receiver Shavarez Smith that set up South Alabama’s 26-yard field goal in the second quarter, Mississippi State defensive back Will Redmond bounced back with a play that helped the Bulldogs take control of the game for good.
After Dak Prescott caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from wideout Jameon Lewis to push the lead to 21-3, Redmond made the biggest play on his career on the opening play of South Alabama’s ensuing possession.
Redmond, a junior from Memphis, picked off a pass from USA’s Brandon Bridge and returned it to the USA 32-yard line, setting up a 32-yard scoring drive that gave MSU a 28-3 lead just before half. It was Redmond’s first career interception.
“That was huge,” said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen of Redmond’s interception.
Entering Saturday’s game at South Alabama, one game loomed large for Mississippi State; next week’s Southeastern Conference opener at LSU. And though the Bulldogs kept their focus locked on the Jaguars until the final horn on Saturday afternoon, the talk following the game turned immediately to next week’s trip to Baton Rouge.
Asked if his team is ready to open the conference schedule, Mullen said “Well, we better be. If we’re not, we will find out quick. But honestly, I’m seeing a lot of good things with this football team. I like the way we’ve been playing.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat