Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0) defeated Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) 41 to 31 in front of a packed house and national television audience Saturday night. For the Bulldogs, this win was monumental for many reasons.
The Bulldogs are 6-0 for the first time since 1999, tied for first in the SEC West with Alabama and ranked 12th in the first BCS poll of the season.
Many people, be it fans or media, are still hesitant to place the Bulldogs among the nation's better programs, but the Bulldogs will have time to show they do, or do not, belong in the coming weeks.
Tennessee is still winless in the conference and rumblings continue to intensify about head coach Derek Dooley's future with the program. Tennessee still has several winnable games on their schedule and could still make it to a decent bowl come the end of the season.
Will that be enough for Dooley to salvage another season in Knoxville? Only time will tell for both Mississippi State and Tennessee as there are several unanswered questions for these two teams, but today we look at the winners and losers of Saturday night's game in Starkville.
Tyler Russell and back up quarterback Dak Prescott celebrate the Bulldogs victory over Tennessee
Coming into the season, everyone wondered if Tyler Russell was capable of being a starter in the SEC at the quarterback position. The redshirt junior from Meridian, Miss., has worked tirelessly through the offseason and during the 2012 season to show his name does belong among the top quarterbacks in the conference.
On Saturday night, Russell proved again why he is one of the better quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference.
Russell threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns while completing 62 percent of his passes. Russell seemed to make all the big throws when his team needed him most, and this is without a doubt his team.
Russell for the season now 1,382 yards with 12 touchdowns to only one interception. I don't care what league you are playing in—that's not too shabby.
Offense, defense and special teams are the three big areas of any football team, and most coaches would agree you have to execute in all three to win big games.
Mississippi State has been average at best in the special teams department this season, and it could have cost them on Saturday night.
Freshman kicker Devon Bell was two for three in the field goal department, but the one miss could have been huge in the grand scheme of things.
The Bulldogs also allowed their second kickoff return of the year as Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson ripped off a 98-yard return in the second quarter to cut the Bulldogs lead to 17-14.
For the Bulldogs to go from good to great, they must rectify their issues on special teams.
Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson showed again Saturday night why he will be playing on Sundays in the NFL next season.
The junior accounted for 195 total yards and two touchdowns in the Volunteers' loss. Patterson kept the Vols in the ball game with his 98-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, and made big play after big play all night via the running game and through the air.
Patterson is arguably the most electric player in the Southeastern Conference this year, and for the season, he has accounted for 835 total yards and six touchdowns.
Many will tell you that they love Derek Dooley, the person. Smart, candid and an all-around nice guy. But in the SEC, it is all about winning football games, and after Saturday night's loss to Mississippi State, Dooley is now 0-13 against ranked opponents and 1-10 in his past 11 SEC games.
That is just not going to cut it in Knoxville, and with Alabama and South Carolina coming up, Dooley's seat could get very hot in the next few weeks.
There are winnable games on the back half of the schedule, and the Volunteers should make a decent bowl game, but will that be enough to satisfy the Volunteer faithful and extend Dooley another year? Only time will tell.
All Mississippi State junior running back Ladarius Perkins heard in the offseason was, "Can he be an every-down back in the SEC?"
Perkins showed again Saturday night that he is not only capable of being an every-down back in the SEC, but also that he is the main back for the Bulldogs.
Perkins again went over the 100-yard mark rushing for 101 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. Perkins' 4.4 yard per carry average Saturday night allowed the Bulldogs to do just enough on the ground to help open up the passing lanes for Tyler Russell.
On the season, Perkins now has 600 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. His 5.7 yards per carry average is among the top running backs in the SEC, and only Florida's Mike Gillislee has more yards on the ground in the conference.
The Volunteers defense now ranks 87th nationally and is giving up 430 yards per game. The Vols are giving up 5.81 yards per play, and again when called upon Saturday night, could not make the necessary plays to get the ball back for their offense.
Mississippi State was able to drive the length of the field and throw a touchdown with just seconds left to secure their 10-point win. Had the Vols made a stop on that drive, who knows what could have happened? A tie at the least was in play, and possibly the win.
If the Vols are going to turn their season around, it all starts on the defensive side of the ball. They must shore up their run defense and fix their red-zone issues as the Vols now rank 81st in red-zone defense.
Every good quarterback has that go-to-guy on offense. That guy they know they can get the ball to and he will make the big play more often than not. For the Mississippi State quarterback, that guy is senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis.
Bumphis again showed up big Saturday night, hauling in seven passes for 93 yards. Bumphis is showing this year why so many people raved about his skills coming out of Tupelo High School, and he is having a fantastic senior year.
For the year, Bumphis has hauled in 28 receptions for 468 yards and six touchdowns. Bumphis plays the slot position as good as any, and his ability to find a crease down the middle of the field has become commonplace. His ability to make plays just helps open up things for other receivers on the team.
Saturday's game saw a capacity crowd of both Mississippi State and Tennessee fans pack the junction, Davis Wade Stadium and the town of Starkville, Miss.
Not a seat was available for the game on Saturday night, and moving throughout the junction tailgate area was shoulder to shoulder.
No doubt the Bulldog faithful have plenty to be proud of in their team. At 6-0 for the first time since 1999 and atop the SEC West, who wouldn't be proud?
Many still question the Bulldogs' schedule and their lack of a victory against a Top 25 opponent. My rebuttal to all of that is to enjoy being 6-0, ranked in the Top 25 and No. 12 in the BCS rankings.
These types of things are not common in Starkville, so cherish it. As for quality opponents? The Bulldogs get their fair share over the next five weeks, so we will see how this team pans out.
But until then, continue to ring your bells and throw some money in that travel account because you are bowl eligible for the third straight year. If you get the chance, tell Dan Mullen thank you, because he has created a winner in Starkville.