STARKVILLE, Miss. — No. 19 Mississippi State had its best offensive first half against a Southeastern Conference opponent in 18 years, and it was just enough to hold off Tennessee 41-31 Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium.
The Bulldogs rolled up 293 yards and 19 first downs to take a 27-14 halftime lead, then sealed the win with a late touchdown in the waning moments.
Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0 SEC) amassed 450 yards of offense, including 308 through the air.
Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell had a career game, completing 23 of 37 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Teammate LaDarius Perkins rushed 23 times for 101 yards and a score.
Chad Bumphis paced the Bulldogs’ receiving corps with seven catches for 93 yards, while tight end Marcus Green caught a pair of touchdown passes.
Tennessee scored the only 10 points of the third quarter to pull within a field goal. Michael Palardy booted a 38-yard field goal on the first drive of the second half, and then the Volunteers (3-3, 0-3 SEC) got an 11-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bray to Cordarrelle Patterson.
However, just as the second-half momentum seemed to be shifting the Volunteers’ way, a turnover changed everything. Mississippi State All-America cornerback Johnthan Banks forced and recovered a Devrin Young fumble at the Tennessee 30-yard line.
Three plays later, Perkins punched it in for the Bulldogs as they took a 34-24 advantage midway through the fourth quarter.
It would not take long for Tennessee to respond. The Vols marched 58 yards in only five plays and scored again on a 10-yard hookup from Bray to Ben Bartholomew in the back of the end zone with 5:22 remaining.
Mississippi State then was able to string together a 12-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a gutsy 9-yard touchdown pass from Russell to Malcolm Johnson on fourth-and-goal with nine seconds remaining.
Tennessee finished with 361 total yards but only 148 yards through the air and two turnovers.
Bray hit on 13 of 24 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Young gained 58 yards on 13 attempts after taking over for Neal, who left the game at halftime with an injured ankle.
Tennessee’s Zach Rogers hauled in three passes for 35 yards.
Mississippi State marched down and put points on the board on the opening drive. After the Bulldogs gained four first downs, freshman Devon Bell came on to boot his seventh straight field goal from 31 yards out.
Tennessee’s offense proved it could move the ball as well, marching down for a 6-yard touchdown run by Rajion Neal on its initial possession to go up 7-3.
The lead would not last long, as the Bulldogs went 65 yards on 10 plays on the ensuing drive capped off by Josh Robinson’s first career touchdown on a 10-yard run.
It was more firsts for Mississippi State early in the second quarter when backup freshman quarterback Dak Prescott tossed his first career touchdown pass to a wide open Green from 13 yards out to extend the Bulldogs’ advantage to 17-7.
The Volunteers quickly answered as Patterson brought the ensuing kickoff back 98 yards for the score.
Mississippi State tacked on another Bell field goal from 24 yards to push the score to 20-14.
The Bulldogs squibbed the next kickoff, and it was recovered by Mississippi State’s Taveze Calhoun at the Tennessee 33-yard line. Four plays later, Russell connected with Green on a 7-yard scoring strike as Mississippi State took a 27-14 lead into the locker room for halftime.