Mississippi State faced the daunting task of shutting down a Louisville Cardinal offense that averaged 39 points and over 560 yards of offense per game, led by former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. They did just that, as the Bulldog defense exceeded expectations, intercepting Jackson four times and holding Louisville to 358 total yards, well below their season average. The Bulldogs walked away from the game with a 31-27 victory.
Hearing the hype surrounding Jackson and the Cardinal offense, MSU DB Mark McLaurin wasn’t going to let the Bulldogs’ defense be exploited. McLaurin finished with 11 total tackles (8 solo & 3 assists) and two interceptions, including the game clinch pick with just minutes remaining in the game.
McLaurin wasn’t alone in his effort to shut down the Louisville offense. While he was able to break a few tackles and rush for 158 yards, the Bulldogs were able to pressure and sack Jackson six times on the day.
Keytaon Thompson didn’t flinch in his first start in relief of Nick Fitzgerald and did most of his damage on the ground. Thompson finished with just under 150 yards rushing on 27 attempts with three touchdowns, including two clutch runs to put the Bulldogs in a winning position. Trailing 24-17 early in the third, Thompson turned a Jackson INT into a TD to tie the game. The Cardinals then took nearly 6 minutes off the clock to kick a FG to take a 27-24 lead.
Without panic, Thompson led the Bulldogs on a sustained drive of their own. Despite completing just one pass on the drive, the Cardinals had no answer for the ground game and with 3:39 remaining, Thompson plunged into the end zone and gave the Bulldogs a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. The TD capped the 11- play 65-yard drive for MSU.
As a team, MSU finished with 404 total yards, with 277 on the ground. Thompson was assisted by RB Aeris Williams, who took 12 carries for 88 yards and TD. Thompson completed just 11 passes on the day, but while doing so, he found five different receivers. Although the Bulldogs were guilty of 11 penalties for 100 yards and committed three turnovers of their own, they were able to make plays when it mattered the most and leave Jacksonville as TaxSlayer Bowl champions.
In a little over a month, the Bulldogs lost their quarterback and their coach, but they were able to stifle one the nation’s most electrifying offenses and end their season on a high note. With Nick Fitzgerald coming back in the spring and a long list of returning starters, new head coach Joe Moorhead has plenty of talent to work with as he attempts to build on Dan Mullen’s success in Starkville.
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