On Saturday afternoon, they proved it—sort of.
A look at the stat sheet might be misleading, as Smith ended the day with 119 yards. But on 35 carries, that’s only 3.4 YPC.
More importantly, the Bulldogs kept Smith from getting loose—his longest run was 15 yards—and kept him out of the end zone, even though he’d been there a nation-leading 29 times this year.
Ironically, the other No. 24 in the game, MSU’s running back Anthony Dixon, did the real damage. While Smith was busy fumbling in his own territory, Dixon was rumbling for big first downs—and the final TD plunge—late in the game.
Dixon’s final tally was 86 yards (3.6 per carry) and the all-important go-ahead touchdown.
The real story, of course, was the Bulldogs’ relentless defense, which limited UCF’s high-scoring offense to a season-low three points. Mississippi State’s D has carried the team all season long, and Saturday was no exception, as the Bulldog offense registered an embarrassing 39 total passing yards, leaving the defense to do the dirty work.
Gang-tackling, big hits, and interceptions were key to the Bulldog victory. As usual, Derek Pegues was the defensive MVP, picking off two passes, helping to stop the run, and lighting up quarterback Kyle Israel on his trademark blitzes.
Entering the game, these two teams were polar opposites. While UCF had ripped off seven straight wins and posted 34 points or more in each of them, Mississippi State needed a one-point, come-from-behind win over Ole Miss just to become bowl eligible.
In the end, Sylvester Croom, the SEC Coach of the Year, got a much-deserved bowl win, and the all important momentum heading into next season.
As for the SEC—it’s one down, eight to go.