Mississippi State’s 54-24 thrashing of a hapless Arkansas team Saturday didn’t completely erase the stench of a four-game losing streak.
But it did give MSU fans plenty of things to feel good about for the first time in about a month.
Kylin Hill ran for a video-game like 234 yards. His backup, Nick Gibson, also surpassed the century mark (marking the first time the Bulldogs have ever had two tailbacks run for 100-plus yards in the same game). MSU’s offensive line manhandled Arkansas’ defensive line and linebackers so badly the Bulldogs totaled an astounding 430 rushing yards as a team, the most they’ve ever tallied against an SEC opponent.
The much maligned Tommy Stevens started at quarterback in place of Garrett Shrader and led two touchdown drives instantly to silence criticism. Stevens, who finished 12 of 18 passing for 172 yards with two touchdowns and 74 rushing yards, was the best quarterback on the field on a day when Arkansas used three different signal callers.
“I had my number called today. I was happy the team was able to get a win,” Stevens said.
Joe Moorhead, who turned 46 on Saturday, got the best birthday gift anyone could have bestowed on him: a win.
Earlier in the week, the second-year coach had every MSU player write down their reason for playing football in the spirit of team unity. West Point native and sophomore safety Marcus Murphy responded by dedicating this game to his late mother and his son, Mason, who is in need of a bone marrow transplant because of a rare genetic abnormality.
Murphy read his letter to the team before kickoff and later snatched his first collegiate interception and ran it 32 yards for a touchdown.
“I play the game with passion,” Murphy said. “When my number’s called, I’m going to step up and help the team.”
After terrible starts on the road against Texas A&M and Tennessee, MSU bucked the trend and took a quick 17-0 lead over the Razorbacks, giving its fanbase a relatively stress-free afternoon.
“It’s a lot easier when you’re not digging yourself into a hole,” Moorhead said.
After seeing a quarter-filled stadium evaporate in the fourth quarter as the blowout worsened, MSU fans pocketed a new rebuttal for whenever their next agonizing loss comes: “Well, at least we aren’t Arkansas.” As bad as things had gotten for the Maroon and White, the Bulldogs never lost 17 straight SEC games for the second time since 2012 like their Arkansas counterparts.
But perhaps most importantly, the Bulldogs ensured their season is going to stay relevant until the final week.
Mississippi State earned its fourth win of the year and needs two more to become bowl eligible for a program-record 10th straight season. All of us are probably reasonable enough to assume the next matchup against No. 2 Alabama in two weeks is a guaranteed loss and the contest against Abilene Christian the week after should be a lock in the win column. That means MSU’s postseason fate is going to come down to the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night.
Articles don’t write themselves, but that one will come close.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.