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BYU football: Mississippi State runs over Cougars, 35-10

Mississippi State 35, BYU 10

STARKVILLE, Mississippi — BYU’s historically abysmal season got even worse Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.

Mississippi State dominated on both sides of the ball on its way to a 35-10 throttling of the Cougars before a crowd of 54,866.

With the setback, BYU suffered its first single-season six-game losing streak, and its first 1-6 start, since 1968.

“If there was blood in the water and our backs were against the wall before, it’s triple that,” said fullback Brayden El-Bakri. “Everybody’s pretty down in (the locker room) right now. It stinks to lose and to be in this situation.”

BYU’s defense surrendered 306 yards rushing and 546 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs became the first team to run for more than 300 yards against BYU since Air Force accomplished that feat in 2010.

“I thought we’d play better up front and be able to handle the run,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “I’m disappointed in that. They put it to us up front on the line of scrimmage. They gashed us.”

MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald ran like Dak Prescott, gaining 103 yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts. Running back Aeris Williams ran for 114 yards and a touchdown.

“It wasn’t a secret that Fitzgerald could run. We knew that going into it,” Sitake said. “When you know what’s coming and you can’t stop it, that’s really discouraging as a defense. That’s pretty much what happened today. … The guys were there, they just weren’t making plays. We were missing tackles and dripping off ball carriers a few times. The stats don’t lie. They ran the ball 53 times for 300 yards.”

Once again, the Cougar offense sputtered most of the day, gaining 176 yards, with an ultra-conservative game plan.

“We wanted to keep the ball moving and get it into the hands of our playmakers," said quarterback Tanner Mangum, who completed 16 of 26 passes for 145 yards with one touchdown and one interception. "We sustained some drives but we couldn’t finish. That’s on us."

How’s this for disparity? Mississippi State picked up 35 first downs compared to just eight for the Cougars.

Another troubling aspect for BYU is it hasn’t made much progress since the season began. And in some ways, particularly on defense, the Cougars have regressed.

There are a few positives that BYU can take away from Starkville. The last time the Cougars faced a Southeastern Conference team, in a 27-0 loss to Louisiana State, they failed to cross midfield and were shut out.

Against MSU (4-2), BYU crossed midfield a few times and scored 10 points. So that’s something.

The Cougars were clinging to a sliver of hope when they scored their first touchdown of the day, a 27-yard touchdown pass from Mangum to Aleva Hifo. At that point, BYU trailed 28-10 at the end of the third quarter.

Then the Cougars forced a fumble — MSU’s first lost fumble of the season — on the ensuing kickoff. BYU had the ball at the Bulldog 29-yard line but it couldn’t get past the 32. On fourth-and-13, Mangum threw an interception in the end zone.

It was the same old story for BYU. There were dropped passes, turnovers, missed blocks.

The Cougars opened the game by converting two third downs and crossed the 50-yard line, though they ended up punting.

On its first drive, MSU recorded plays of 20, 20, 19 and 15 yards, capped by Fitzgerald’s first touchdown run, to take an early 7-0 lead and making it look easy.

Early in the second quarter, BYU cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku intercepted Fitzgerald in the end zone and returned it 67 yards, to the BYU 34-yard line.

Two plays later, the Cougars gave the ball right back to the Bulldogs when Ula Tolutau fumbled.

That fumble “cost us,” Sitake said.

Mississippi State took advantage by scoring on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Fitzgerald to Donald Gray on its ensuing drive to go up 14-0.

BYU encroached Bulldog territory again moments later when Mangum completed a 43-yard pass to Hifo, the Cougars’ second-longest play from scrimmage this season, to the MSU 24-yard line.

But BYU couldn’t capitalize but got on the board with a 38-yard field goal by Rhett Almond to make it 21-3.

But Mississippi State answered again, marching right down the field on a 14-yard touchdown run by Fitzgerald to take a 28-3 lead at intermission.

The Cougars visit East Carolina next Saturday.