It has been a twisting and turning route that Mississippi State has taken to its open date.

The bottom line is the Bulldogs are 5-3 and 2-3 in the SEC after a 30-6 beating at the hands of No. 6 Alabama on Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Along the way, State flirted with being in a much better position than the one it sits in as it awaits Auburn’s visit to Davis Wade Stadium on Nov. 5.

Not long ago – 2 weeks in fact – State was 5-1 and each victory had come by 18 or more points. Two of those lopsided wins helped accelerate the demise of Texas A&M and Arkansas.

The Bulldogs got themselves ranked, climbed as high as No. 16 and were still sitting at No. 24 on Saturday.

But the ugly loss to Alabama was preceded by an ugly loss at Kentucky and suddenly this season looks much different than it did just a few weeks ago.

Here’s what working and what’s not working for State:

What’s working:

The defense

It hasn’t been great, but it was good early and it has prevented the past 2 losses from being even uglier than they were.

The Bulldogs held Alabama, which scored 49 points a week earlier in a loss to undefeated Tennessee, to 290 total yards, including just 29 rushing yards. The Tide scored just 6 points in the 2nd half.

The most points State has given up in a victory is 24 and the past 2 weeks the defense has received virtually no help from the offense. In the loss to Kentucky, Emmanuel Forbes’ pick-6 provided as many touchdowns as the offense provided.

Generally speaking, State has played good enough defense to have a better record than its has.

The kickoff returns

The Bulldogs entered the game Saturday tied with Kentucky for the best kickoff-return average (30.27) in the SEC.

They didn’t reach that mark against Bama, averaging 24.3 yards on 4 returns. But their average starting field position after 7 kickoffs was their 27, which was 5 yards better than their average starting point on 5 possessions that didn’t start after a kickoff.

That’s not much to brag about, but that’s where State is right now.

What’s not working:

The passing game

This really means the offense because if the passing game isn’t working the offense isn’t going to work.

The running game actually has been better (compared to last season) as a complement to the passing game for much of the season, but it’s just not enough of head coach Mike Leach’s system to be much of factor when the passing game isn’t clicking.

And the passing game isn’t clicking at all.

State threw the ball 61 times against Bama and had just 30 completions and 231 yards to show for it.

The Bulldogs didn’t avoid a shutout until Jo’quavious Marks ran 1 yard for a touchdown as time expired.

The discipline

Leach has the 3rd most-penalized team in the SEC. And it’s getting worse.

State went into Saturday’s game having been penalized 48 times (7 a game) for an average of 71 yards a game.

Then came 10 penalties for 100 yards against the Tide, one week after being penalized 13 times for 109 yards against Kentucky.

Mississippi State has not managed any sustained success during the past 2 games and a big factor in that is penalties constantly getting in the way.

The place-kicking

State has missed 4 PATs this season and its conversion percentage of 87.9 ranks last in the SEC. The good news is the fact that it had just 6 points to show for its touchdown against Bama was not due to another missed kick, but because there was no time left to try a conversion after Marks’ touchdown.

As for field goal percentage, the Bulldogs do not rank last in the SEC like they did last season. Their 71.4 percent rate ranks 7th.