Posted by Jerry Hinnen
MISSISSIPPI STATE WON: It's not easy to lose the turnover battle 4-0 and still win a bowl game, but that's just how much better the Bulldogs were in seeing off Wake Forest at the Music City Bowl. The Bulldogs outgained the Demon Deacons 380-288, Vick Ballard ran wild with 180 yards on just 14 carries (12.9 per-attempt) and two touchdowns, and Chris Relf did just enough in the Bulldogs' aerial game -- 12-of-19 for 129 yards and a touchdown -- to keep the Deacon defenders honest. If not for Relf's two interceptions and two first-half fumbles, this game could have been put to bed much, much sooner it was.
WHY MISSISSIPPI STATE WON: Because -- not that this was unexpected -- Tanner Price and the Wake Forest passing game never got going. Always a lackluster rushing team, the Demon Deacons had to get Price hot to move the ball against the Bulldogs. But with the exception of one clinical drive to open the second half, Price barely ever got lukewarm; he finished the night 24-of-46 for all of 214 yards, a thoroughly mediocre 4.7 yards per attempt. Though Price never threw an interception, he never threw a touchdown, either, and finished the game with three ugly incompletions on Wake's final drive.
But it wasn't all Price's fault. For one thing, he was under constant pressure -- defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was everywhere, particularly in the first half -- and was rarely able to throw in rhythm. We said before the game that star Deacon wide receiver Chris Givens would have to win his matchup against excellent Bulldog cover corner Johnthan Banks for the Wake offense to click, and it's fair to say that didn't happen; Givens finished with nine receptions, but for only 54 yards without a touchdown. The results were predictable--including this defeat, Wake finished the season 0-5 in games in which Givens finished with fewer than 80 yards.
WHEN MISSISSIPPI STATE WON: For all of the Bulldogs' statistical dominance and control of the game past the first quarter, the game wasn't ultimately decided until Price's final incompletion on 4th-and-7 gave the ball back to State with under 90 seconds to play.
WHAT MISSISSIPPI STATE WON: A winning season, still far from a certainty in Starkville, but more importantly it keeps alive one of the nation's more improbable postseason winning streaks; the Bulldogs have now won five straight bowl games dating back to their victory in the 1999 Peach Bowl, tying Rutgers for the FBS's longest streak.
WHAT WAKE FOREST LOST: Their own shot at a winning record -- the Deacons finish 6-7 -- but simply getting to a bowl game was a major accomplishment for a team without a whole lot of raw talent or offensive firepower.
FINAL GRADE: Once State went up 16-7 in the second quarter, the entire game seemed to consist of the Bulldogs trying to run out the clock, Wake desperately trying to make up ground, and neither team succeeding at either. Though the outcome technically remained in doubt until the final minutes, the game never quite became legitimately "exciting." (Vick Ballard's bolting up the middle for long touchdowns excepted.) C-.