Published September 18, 2011 - 11:39am
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After a five day span that they’d just as soon forget, Mississippi State must now regroup and focus on what lies ahead. Although a 1-2 start isn’t what Dan Mullen envisioned for his team, there’s still a lot of football yet to be played.
If you’re a Bulldog fan, take my advice and step away from the ledge right now. As bad as things may seem after three games, there’s no need to jump just yet.
In a five day time frame, MSU lost by inches to the defending national champions and dropped a hard fought defensive battle to an LSU team who could very well win the next national title.
The Auburn loss definitely hurts the most, because that’s one the Bulldogs probably should have won. However, with nine games left in the season, you simply have to put those losses behind you and move on.
There’s still much reason for hope in Starkville and here’s why:
It Doesn’t Get Tougher Than LSU – This is the SEC and State still has plenty of daunting games ahead. Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas…they’re all great teams. As of right now, though, LSU looks to be the cream of the crop. Not only did the Tigers shutdown a strong MSU rushing attack, they dismantled an Oregon team that took Auburn to the brink in last year’s national title game. Defensively, Les Miles’ squad appears to be in a league of it’s own.
The Bulldogs did hang with the Bayou Bengals for three quarters, despite falling behind in the fourth. Moral victories don’t mean much in cowbell country these days, but this performance goes to show that you can’t count MSU out of any of their remaining contests.
Time To Get Healthy – The first two games of the SEC gauntlet proved to be costly on the injury front. With the Thursday night game in the books, State now has a couple of extra days before they hit the field to take on Louisiana Tech. Even during the course of that game, Mullen should be able to rest his players that are banged up.
The offensive line in particular has taken some major hits early on. The unit lost two starters during the Auburn game, with left tackle James Carmon and center Quinton Saulsberry both being sidelined due to leg injuries. Saulsberry was listed as “day to day” and managed to return for the LSU game, while Carmon never dressed out for Thursday’s affair. The injury bug struck again early in that matchup, as starting right guard Tobias Smith left the game with a leg injury. Smith spent the remainder of the night on crutches.
On the defensive side, middle linebacker Brandon Maye missed the second half of the LSU game with a concussion. Maye, a transfer from Clemson, was making his first start for the Bulldogs.
If those players are able to heal up and get back in the saddle for the Georgia game on October 1, things will be looking much brighter for the guys in maroon.
The Bulldogs Are A Good Team – Make no mistake about it, this Mississippi State squad can still make some noise this season. LSU will make a lot of teams look bad on offense, but Chris Relf and company will be able to score points on most defenses they face. The MSU running game, led by Vick Ballard, could very well lead the SEC in rushing yards when the dust settles at season’s end.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will continue to improve. They held their own against LSU, limiting the Tigers to 19 points, ten of which came in the fourth quarter. You have to believe that Thursday’s defensive performance would be good enough to win most games this year.
You won’t see Dan Mullen’s offense held to six points again in 2011. As stated before, the LSU defense is the best of the best. Time will prove that.
The Bottom Line
Where does Mississippi State stand after week three? It’s pretty simple:
The Bulldogs will head to Athens in early October with a 2-2 record. The outcome of that game will likely determine what tier bowl invitation MSU will be receiving this fall.
With a win over Georgia, Dan Mullen’s team could once again be on track for a New Year’s Day bowl and another solid season. There’s no reason to think that State can’t compete with every remaining team on the schedule, but they must convert those close games into wins. That must start in Athens.
A loss to Mark Richt’s team, however, would be a back breaker. An 0-3 start in SEC play could very well lead to a six or seven win season and a December trip to Memphis, Nashville or Birmingham. While there’s far worse things than going 6-6 or 7-5, anything less than eight wins would be a disappointment for this team.
With that said, look for the Bulldogs to bounce back and come on strong. These guys have heart, determination, talent and a coaching staff that will not settle for anything less than 100% “relentless effort”.
So yes, MSU fans, step away from the ledge and give your team a chance to make a new start. The season is still young and much is yet to be determined in this crazy world we call the SEC.