Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill (8) runs the ball while defended by Southern Miss defensive back D.Q. Thomas during the first quarter Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium. Photo by: Matt Bush/USA TODAY Sports
September 7, 2019 9:02:39 PM
STARKVILLE -- Saturday should have been a day of exultation.
For the first time this fall, 55,143 maroon-and-white-clad fans packed the seats at Davis Wade Stadium while tailgating tents littered The Junction just behind the south end zone.
Yet the celebratory clanging of cowbells quickly fell quiet as Mississippi State lost starting quarterback Tommy Stevens to an upper-body injury as the Bulldogs marched to a 38-15 victory over Southern Mississippi on Saturday afternoon.
Coach Joe Moorhead said Stevens was meeting with trainers postgame and that he would receive a fuller injury update during a staff meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday.
"We've got to be like our mascot; we've got to be a dang Bulldog," Moorhead said of overcoming adversity Saturday. "We've got to bow our neck, bow our back and just find a way to win every single week."
With Stevens sidelined, junior running back Kylin Hill shouldered much of the offensive load.
Hill, who had his ankle twisted up at the tail end of the first half, raced to his second 100-yard game of the season -- totaling 123 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
His lone score of the day came on a 3-yard touchdown plunge with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter to put MSU ahead 28-0.
"It never excites you to see your teammate go down," Hill said. "Tommy is a hard-working guy, but I had to step up to the plate. I had to do what I had to do to get the win."
Senior Nick Gibson and heralded freshman Lee Weatherspoon also bolstered the Bulldog rushing attack with a combined 71 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
Weatherspoon earned his first career touchdown with a 22-yard scamper through the USM defense with 2:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Under center, mid-year enrollee Garrett Shrader took the reins once Stevens exited the contest. The freshman from Charlotte finished the afternoon 7 of 11 for 71 yards and added another nine carries for 16 yards on the ground.
Shrader entered the game ahead of junior Keytaon Thompson -- who reportedly sat out of practice this week with a lingering upper-body injury, though Moorhead said he was capable of playing Saturday.
"It was just next man up, and that's how we played," Shrader said. "We had a bunch of young guys make big plays today."
Prior to his departure, Stevens continued his hot start to the season as he completed his first nine passes of the day -- the most consecutive completions for an MSU quarterback to start a game since Dak Prescott completed 12 straight in a 2015 contest against Arkansas.
Again displaying his accuracy in the early going, the Penn State transfer delivered a dime to junior receiver Osirus Mitchell, who skied above a USM defender on a skinny post from 28 yards out to put MSU ahead 7-0.
Stevens finished the day 9 of 10 for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the MSU pass rush offered a stark contrast from last week's nearly invisible performance in New Orleans.
Senior defensive linemen Marquiss Spencer and Fletcher Adams each notched four tackles, while seniors Chauncey Rivers, Lee Autry, Kobe Jones and freshmen Cameron Young and Fabien Lovett totaled two apiece.
Senior defensive back Brian Cole II tied for the team lead with seven tackles -- including 2.5 for a loss and a sack.
"That's what we do -- hunt the ball, try to fly around," Cole said. "It was a good defensive win."
As the Bulldogs slowly meandered toward the student section, the somber tune of the MSU alma mater, Stevens joined linked arms with his teammates near the north goal line.
While his injury was undoubtedly a stain on his first start in Starkville, Shrader, Hill and the rest of the team were able to claw out the victory -- the same persona Moorhead sees in Bully.
Junior linebacker Willie Gay, junior receiver Devonta Jason, sophomore safety Marcus Murphy and freshman Kwatrivous Johnson were all suspended Saturday for violating team rules.
It marks the second straight week that contingent of players was held out.
Dareuan Parker also did not suit up as he continues to battle a lower body injury he suffered last week against Louisiana.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.
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