For native Mississippian Jason McNair, it was a chance to come home.
The Tennessee-Martin running back rushed for a game-high 122 yards on 27 carries, but that just wasn't enough as the Skyhawks lost 55-17 to Mississippi State on Saturday night.
Still, McNair, nephew of deceased NFL quarterback Steve McNair, liked playing on such a big stage.
''Playing in an SEC environment was a great experience,'' McNair said.
The experience was positive for the Skyhawks in more ways than just the atmosphere.
Tennessee-Martin (5-4) racked up 454 yards offense and averaged 5.5 yards per play against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
''Mississippi State has the quickest defense we've played against, so we had to hit holes faster,'' McNair said.
Running back Kenny Jones scored both Skyhawks touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
Quenton Sims caught six balls for 53 yards, and quarterback Derek Carr completed 19 of 31 passes for 167 yards and one score.
''Our team played better than I expected,'' McNair said. ''Our offensive line played great. I have to credit all of our offensive success to them.''
But for all their success at moving the ball, the Skyhawks struggled to put points on the board against Mississippi State's (5-4) stiff scoring defense.
The Skyhawks opened the game with a deep drive into Bulldogs territory, but kicker Cody Sandlin missed a 33-yard field goal attempt.
''I mean, we were outmanned,'' head coach Jason Simpson said. ''We missed a field goal. We had individual errors. I was proud of our guys' ability to stand against a team like this and execute at times, but the bottom line is that we lost.''
Sandlin hit a second attempt just before halftime and Jones found the end zone twice in the second half. But for the most part the Bulldogs defense forced a stop or turnover nearly any time the Skyhawks moved into scoring range.
''The red zone is a tough place to play,'' Simpson said. ''We really couldn't hold onto the football.''
Against a superior opponent, missed opportunities loomed large.
After Sandlin's early missed field goal, Mississippi State marched 80 yards in 13 plays and Vick Ballard scampered in for a 5-yard touchdown. It was the Bulldogs' first on an opening drive this season, and from there it was all Mississippi State.
''Our offense gave our defense momentum,'' linebacker Ben Johnson said. ''We just didn't get the job done.''
From there, Jonathan Banks returned a Tennessee-Martin punt 65 yards for a touchdown on the next possession. Then Tyler Russell threw a 78-yard strike to Chad Bumphis to end the first quarter.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen again used both Russell and senior Chris Relf at quarterback, and both had some success.
Russell completed 9 of 18 passes for 183 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
''I don't think I played up to the par of this game at all,'' Russell said. ''We've got a lot of stuff to work on.''
Relf finished 5 of 6 for 61 yards and threw two touchdowns.
''Chris, I thought, was excellent,'' Mullen said.
Relf hit Arceto Clark for a 27-yard score with 4:11 remaining in the first half, and the Bulldogs led 28-3 at the break.
In the second half, Ballard broke a 54-yard run for a touchdown early in the third quarter, and Nick Griffin and Dylan Favre both added rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs racked up 570 yards behind a two-touchdown night from Ballard. Mississippi State averaged 8.3 yards per play and never trailed in the contest.
Ballard rushed only 11 times for 102 yards and averaged 9.2 yards a carry. The game was Ballard's fourth 100-yard outing of the season, and his first multi-touchdown performance since the Bulldogs' season opener against Memphis.
Clark caught 5 passes for 96 yards and a career-high two touchdowns, while Bumphis had four catches for 89 yards and a touchdown.
The win puts Mississippi State only one win away from bowl eligibility with three games remaining.
''We're into November and we have a winning record,'' Mullen said. ''That's where we want our program to be.''