Sunday ThingamaBob: Yes, there is good to be taken from MSU’s first loss, but plenty of lessons to heed

To quote the theme song of one of my favorite ‘90s sitcoms, “You’re mother warned you there’d be days like this.”

Then, to quote everyone’s favorite karaoke song, “Don’t stop believin’.”

Mississippi State’s 38-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama was, in a word, ugly, but the Bulldogs are still 7-1 and in superb position in the Southeastern Conference.

It may be tantamount to asking you to take a punch to the gut, but we’ve got all the coverage you can imagine over at HailState.com, including the full story, complete with links to stats, photos, notes, highlights and more.

If you’d rather not re-live the loss and just want to move on to the next one, I understand.

It’s what Dan Mullen wants you to do.

To quote the head coach, “The season is far from over.”

Immediately after losing to the Tide, as he stood just outside of an emotional and dejected locker room in the bowels of Bryant-Denny stadium, the man in charge of the Bulldogs asked for the strongest fan support of the season this weekend against Texas A&M in Starkville.

Mullen called it the biggest game of the year. And he’s right.

Of course, Mullen and his team don’t have the benefit of ignoring the loss on Saturday. There is film to be watched, mistakes to be found and fixed, positives to build on and lessons to learn from.

We can’t hit everything, but I’ll delve into what I took from the loss here.

In a departure from the norm, we’ll split this into good and bad, with the positives coming first.

As everyone’s favorite nanny so wisely sang, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

  • This isn’t strictly football-related, but I had to take a moment to say how impressive the #WeBelieve movement was. That was as united and passionate as MSU fans have ever been. As Mullen has said, his team needs it even more this weekend and in the Saturdays to follow against SEC West rivals.
  • Seven points doesn’t do MSU’s offense justice. The Bulldogs actually moved the ball well against the vaunted Alabama defense at times, they just couldn’t capitalize. Tyler Russell was sharp nearly all night as he found creases in the swarming Tide defense.
  • The stats which make the offense look much worse than it was: 0-for-3 in the redzone and three turnovers. Those turnovers weren’t all on the offense, of course, but they meant MSU got fewer possessions, while Bama got more. Had MSU managed to score in the redzone each time – say, two touchdowns and a field goal – it’s a severely different game.
  • Another offensive number: State had four-straight three-and-outs in the second quarter. In the other three: just one. With two more possessions (and two fewer for Alabama) from the lost punt and kickoff returns, it may not have been so bad.
  • When did sophomore Robert Johnson become such a stud? The receiver has quietly worked his way into the game more and more, and actually had a team-high four catches Saturday, totaling 23 yards and one touchdown.
  • Speaking of receivers, senior Chris Smith continued his bounce-back campaign after early season fumbles, proving himself reliable and able to make hard catches, racking up 73 yards on three catches, by far his yards-per-catch average of the season.
  • Junior running back LaDarius Perkins couldn’t get much going on the ground, as MSU only had 47 yards rushing, but he found other ways to be impactful, putting together a game-high 156 all-purpose yards. The next closest on either team was UA running back TJ Yeldon with 84.
  • Sticking with the backs, sophomore Nick Griffin, much like Johnson, has slowly increased his role, and played very well when he got early action Saturday night. His one carry went for nine yards, and I was surprised MSU didn’t use to big-bodied back more against Bama’s stout defensive front seven. While he was in, Griffin excelled in pass protection, one of the few drives in which Russell wasn’t hit constantly.
  • And a stat I was slightly surprised by when I looked at the final box: despite his frequent licks, Russell was only sacked once. MSU got to Bama’s QBs twice.
  • On that note, sophomore defensive end Preston Smith has been playing better and better lately, too. He was tied for second on the team with six tackles, five of them solo, as well as a quarterback hurry.
  • Here’s a defensive stat: for just over 30 minutes of play, beginning early in the second quarter and stretching to the early fourth quarter, MSU only gave up three points.
  • Two special teams notes: it won’t be talked about because of Jameon Lewis’ fumble, but MSU returned kickoffs better Saturday than it has all year. Johnson, Lewis and Perkins all had returns of 30-plus yards.
  • Baker Swedenburg continues to be Sweden-wonderful as a punter. He totaled 250 yards, averaging 41.7 yards per kick, only allowing one return, which only went for four yards. MSU has now allowed zero punt return yards on the season.

Time for the bad, and I’ll avoid the obvious “pretty much everything.”

  • The defense eventually got settled in, but Chris Wilson’s unit looked totally lost through the first quarter and a change. Senior linebacker Cam Lawrence said they were taken by surprise when Bama passed so much early, saying they had run the ball nearly 70 percent of the time in their previous seven games. Nick Saban obviously had a plan, and it worked.
  • The final numbers for McCarron actually weren’t too gaudy, only totaling 208 yards, but when he wanted to pass, he had no trouble doing so.
  • MSU’s run defense has been suspect for much of the season, but it was generally chalked up to scheme and matchup. Bama’s non-quarterbacks racked up 185 yards on the ground, with the freshman Yeldon averaging a massive 8.4 yards per rush. There weren’t a ton of big plays, but it adds up quick.
  • Three things MSU had excelled at all season, totally fell apart Saturday. We’ve discussed the turnovers already, and penalties killed the Bulldogs all night, and field position ruined a lot of things. Bama’s yardage totals weren’t particularly outrageous, largely because it had three possessions begin in MSU territory, as well as two beyond their own 40.
  • On special teams: a blocked field goal, two fumbled kickoff returns (one lost) and the bad luck of the punt bouncing off of Benardrick McKinney’s turned back. Rough day for the special teams coach.
  • While we mentioned Russell was only sacked once, he was hit more than you would think is possible for someone who was able to even walk to the locker room after the game. He deserves credit for his poise in the pocket, sticking some great throws when death is barreling at him unblocked from Alabama’s defense, but he can’t keep getting hit like that. The sacks stat has more to do with his awareness and getting the ball out than it does with the blocking of the offensive line.

Johnthan Banks and Cam Lawrence summed up the game perfectly and harmoniously after the game.

Said the All-American corner, “That’s the best team I’ve played against in my college career.”

The follow up from every girl’s favorite eye-blacked linebacker, “It’s the worst game we’ve played all year.”

Combine the two, and you see the result.

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