Mississippi State’s regular season recap: Strong finish will carry momentum into 2014

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SDS recaps every team’s 2013 regular season:

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Final Record: 6-6 overall, 3-5 SEC

Entering 2013, we knew MSU’s bowl chances would be slim due to one of the toughest schedules in the country. Let alone playing a brutal SEC West, State had to endure a top-15 Oklahoma State to open the season. The Bulldogs finished with two straight wins, including the imperative Egg Bowl, and bowl eligibility was accomplished for the fourth straight season. The Bulldogs played six currently ranked teams.

Related: Final SEC regular season division standings

I thought the turning point in the season was when Dan Mullen forced the issue with backup QB Dak Prescott with respect to more playing time. Tyler Russell was the face of the program, and Mullen was loyal to his senior QB. But there came a point when Mullen realized his senior QB isn’t the best-suited QB for his offense. Mullen started playing Prescott more, and that ultimately helped propel State to reach bowl eligibility.

Towards the latter half of the season, the Bulldogs showed they have a great young nucleus of players that would help prolong Mullen’s career at MSU, no matter if they made a bowl game or not. Players like Prescott, WR Jameon Lewis, RBs Josh Robinson and Ashton Shumpert and DL Chris Jones all proved the future is bright playing under Mullen.

Related: MSU had the SEC’s nastiest schedule in 2013

Prescott finished the season as the offense’s best weapon. He finished with 1,657 passing yards for seven TDs and seven INTs, while rushing for a team-high 751 yards and 11 TDs. Senior LaDarius Perkins only finished with 495 yards and two touchdowns, and Robinson really showed he has a bright future and rushed for 414 yards and three TDs. Jameon Lewis is the real deal at receiver, and he caught a team-high 55 passes for 703 yards and five TDs. Robert Johnson, Malcolm Johnson, De’Runnya Wilson and LaDarius Perkins all caught over 20 passes, with the freshman Wilson looking like a future playmaker. The offensive line was good behind center Dillon Day and likely future NFL star Gabe Jackson.

Related: See how MSU’s assistant coaches payroll compares to the rest of the SEC

One of the more underrated coaching jobs in the SEC was first-year defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. Collins replaced the departed Chris Wilson, who went to Georgia. The front seven was strong behind the play of DE Denico Autry, DL Chris Jones and MLB Benardrick McKinney. McKinney is a future NFL star, and Jones was the best player on the defensive line, even as a freshman. He racked up a team-high seven tackles for loss and three sacks. Linebacker Matthew Wells really started to come on late in the season. The secondary took a hit replacing three starters, including both corners, and returner Nickoe Whitley really had another big season. Corner Taveze Calhoun was one of the best defensive playmakers the Bulldogs had.

MSU has several great players returning who could set up for a big 2014 season that could catch some teams by surprise.

Here’s a look at the team stats:

Category (SEC rank)
Scoring Offense 26.3 PPG (10th)
Rushing Offense 185.3 YPG (10th)
Passing Offense 240.3 YPG (7th)
Total Offense 426.2 YPG (9th)
Scoring Defense 24.3 PPG (7th)
Rushing Defense 151.08 YPG (7th)
Passing Defense 215.3 YPG (7th)
Total Defense 366.3 YPG (6th)

One that got away: A season-defining win for Auburn turned into the one that got away from Mississippi State. The Bulldogs played so well against Auburn in the third week of the season, and MSU had Auburn 20-17 in the closing seconds before destiny once again took over for the Tigers. Nick Marshall threw a last-second 11-yard TD pass to TE CJ Uzomah with 10 seconds remaining to get the 24-20 win. The Bulldogs outplayed the Tigers, but they couldn’t get that one stop when it mattered most. It was a tough loss that ultimately did more for the Tigers than it hurt the Bulldogs.

Offensive Stud: There were three studs in QB Dak Prescott, Jameon Lewis and OG Gabe Jackson, but ultimately, Prescott was the lifeblood of Mullen’s attack. He combined for 2,408 yards and 18 touchdowns. Prescott is the uncontested starter in 2014, and let’s see how far he can take the Bulldogs.

Defensive Stud: I thought MLB Benardrick McKinney was brilliant all season, but, to me, Chris Jones was such a catalyst from the middle of the season on. He led the team with seven tackles for loss, three sacks and 10 QB hurries. He’s a wonderful talent who could help take the program to another level. I thought he was the best freshman player, aside from Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves, in the SEC.

What’s next: MSU has to win their bowl game this year. The Bulldogs forgot to show up last year against Northwestern, and Mullen and company will have to take care of a 10-win Rice team that gave Texas A&M a dogfight. Outside of the bowl game, Prescott, Lewis and others need to have a big offseason, creating more rapport with each other on offense. MSU has a chance to be better than anyone expects in 2014, and it could be Dan Mullen’s best team during his MSU tenure.

Photo Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

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