If there was one team circled before the 2012 season that had a chance to make some noise in the SEC West, it was Mississippi State. With the easier schedule and the look of a strong and experienced defense, MSU was the one team that had a chance to make a run at a division championship. And it looked like that for the first seven games, but the last two have exposed the Bulldogs in several facets of the game.
The first seven weeks was a cakewalk facing cupcakes like Jackson State, Auburn, Troy, South Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State. And credit Dan Mullen and his staff for starting 7-0 and taking care of business against lesser opponents. But the reality of the situation is that MSU would be measured on how they finished against Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss, not how they started. Starting 7-0 was great, but there was also a chance the Bulldogs could finish by losing four of their last five games. And with the way Ole Miss has been playing this season, it’s certainly not out of the question that Bulldogs lose five in a row to finish 2012.
MSU fans made their voices heard in the week before Alabama and wanted respect for the way they had played leading up to that point, but we kept pointing to the weaker schedule as the main reason the team was in the position they were in. It’s a harsh reality.
In the last two weeks, we have learned the soft schedule had everything to do with the 7-0 start, and it helped mask the problems the offensive and defensive units really have. The Bulldogs were pummeled against Alabama and Texas A&M, and Mississippi State’s defense gave up 76 points and 1,107 total yards just in the last two weeks.
The biggest problem for the Bulldogs is no doubt the defensive line. A position that was considered a strength entering 2012 now could be the main reason the Bulldogs will not meet their own standards and expectations. Fletcher Cox left a much more massive hole than many thought, including myself.
Florida and LSU blue printed the game plan and the defensive scheme to beat Johnny Manziel, but my fear was the Bulldogs didn’t have the players to run the scheme. It’s one thing to scheme against Johnny Manziel, but it’s another to execute it. That didn’t happen.
Pressure on the quarterback is nowhere to be found, and this group has been pushed around to put it frank. Josh Boyd and Denico Autry have unperformed and have not lived up to their preseason potential or expectation.
Through the first seven weeks, the defense was playing with an edge. Now, there’s no edge to be found; no aggression has been shown in the last two weeks. The tackling has been awful. Guys have been in position but haven’t made the necessary tackles to prevent big plays.
Offensively, the team hasn’t fared any better. After averaging over 36 points per game through their first seven, MSU has averaged just 10 in their last two. There’s no rhythm on offense, and Tyler Russell has been limited in the passing game. Hell, he threw for only 29 yards in the first half against Texas A&M. The Aggies were an underrated defense as a whole, but not that underrated. MSU combined to finish just 6-23 (26%) on third downs against the Tide and Aggies.
The 10-win season everyone had hoped for in Starkville is quickly dwindling with the likes of LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss in the next three weeks. The Bulldogs have to win all three to reach the coveted 10 wins. However, if the Bulldogs show up like the last two weeks, they will struggle to win any of the three.
We were talking about whether Mississippi State could compete with the likes of Alabama and LSU, but now we’re asking ourselves whether the Bulldogs are even the best team in their own state.