In a way it hasn't this season, Mississippi State shows killer mentality against Vanderbilt

·3 min read

Oct. 24—NASHVILLE — Makai Polk reeled in Will Rogers' pass over his shoulder, dragged his foot inbounds before falling to the ground in the end zone to cap off a three-and-a-half-minute drive that saw Mississippi State do something it has struggled to do all season:

Mississippi State played through adversity it created for itself en route to a 45-6 win at Vanderbilt.

The drive started early in the second quarter with a short completion to Jaden Walley. By this point, MSU had no issue collecting chunk plays, but everyone could sense the big play was going to become available soon.

That's where Mike Leach reached into his bag of tricks from a couple days prior and ran a double pass that ended with Walley slinging a pass deep to fellow receiver Austin Williams.

In a rare instance in this game, the play failed because of an underthrown pass.

After an interception was overturned to an incompletion on the following play, it felt as though the same MSU team that struggled to put opponents away earlier this season — and against Vanderbilt last season — was going to reappear.

A roughing the kicker penalty on the ensuing punt gave MSU another chance, and it took advantage.

Running back Jo'quavious Marks converted a fourth and short before Rogers opened things up and found Polk for a 31-yard catch to reinsure Mississippi State wasn't afraid to step on its opponent's throat.

"If we stubbed our toe or made a mistake, I thought we did a good job battling through that," Leach said postgame. "Guys stayed locked into their job better rather than sit and dwell on something that didn't work out our way."

If there was any concern about the confidence MSU had despite making mistakes, it was answered by the swagger Polk showed on either of his two touchdown dances — something he claims to do better than any of his teammates.

"Gotta bring some Cali swag up here to the 'Sip," Polk — a Richmond, California, native — said.

»NOTEBOOK: Lovertich, Mississippi State take advantage of chance against Vanderbilt

Mississippi State's offense possessed the ball for a record time (39:02) since Leach starting roaming the sideline last season.

It allowed State's defense to catch its breath and store the energy it needed for its best performance of the season.

MSU limited Vanderbilt to just two field goals and held Vandy to just 42 plays — marking the third time an FBS team has held an opponent to 45 plays or fewer this century.

"After a while, we affected their quarterback which I think definitely hampered their effort a little bit," Leach said.

Vanderbilt had 155 total yards, including 30 sack-adjusted rushing yards despite dual-threat backup quarterback Mike Wright playing.

Wright completed 12 of his 17 pass attempts for 122 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

Wright, who had 41 rushing yards last week against South Carolina, ran for negative-five yards against MSU thanks in large part to the three sacks State collected.

Linebacker Tyrus Wheat had one of those three sacks for MSU to go along with his four solo tackles — all of which seemed to rattle Vanderbilt's skill players more than the one prior.

Despite his athleticism, Wheat collected two sacks entering Saturday's matchup with Vanderbilt — representative of a team-wide issue with creating pressure but not finishing sacks.

"It felt good — against a running quarterback, too," Wheat said postgame. "We talked about collapsing the pocket (this week in practice). We knew he was gonna scramble."

Mississippi State's schedule provided the opposite of what SEC play is like with a blowout loss against national contender Alabama paired with an easy win against bottom-feeder Vanderbilt.

There were few ways in which MSU could walk out of Vanderbilt Stadium providing more or less expectation than it had walking in, but that may have shifted with a killer mentality MSU says it had in practice and proved in its pouncing of Vanderbilt on a Saturday.

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