Throughout the offseason, two refrains were constant in regards to Mississippi State’s schedule.
First: the beginning of the season sets up well for the Bulldogs to build momentum and get healthy.
Second: the stretch after the off week of eight straight games – including seven SEC contests and the final five all against SEC West foes – is a murderer’s row.
Now, as the off week has passes, we can confirm the first refrain to be true. Dan Mullen’s team is 4-0 and top 20 in the country.
“You don’t want to call the first four games preseason,” Mullen said, “but it is different, just because it’s so much conference-oriented now.”
Indeed, with only one SEC game in the first four contests (a win over Auburn), MSU got their non-conference schedule out of the way. They didn’t play as well as they would have liked against teams like Troy and South Alabama, but the Bulldogs emerged unscathed and prepared to go after what Mullen considers their ultimate prize.
“When you come in, your goals are to find a way to win your side of the conference and play for a conference championship,” Mullen said. “These are all the games that really matter now. We had the one earlier on, the conference game, which was good to get that one. But I think it is different.”
Yes, it is different.
LaDarius Perkins, MSU’s junior running back, knows it, too.
He knows complacency and lack of focus was occasionally a problem for his team in the first four weeks. He knows his team hasn’t played its best football and he knows the greatest challenges lie in front of him and his Bulldog brethren.
However, like Mullen, he knows the opportunity which waits at the end of the hard road paved in front of them, if they can just get through it.
For that reason, Perkins doesn’t think the stacked slate ahead will give MSU problems mentally or physically. After all, they knew this was coming.
“No, I don’t think it does,” Perkins said when asked if the weeks ahead present a challenge they may not be ready for. “We came into the season knowing that these first four games we should be able to win and we’d have to keep improving after the season goes on after the bye week. We make sure we just don’t get complacent.”
In a weird way, MSU has already gone through the mental struggles.
As noted, the Bulldogs didn’t exactly play perfectly in the opening stretch. The end result, of course, is what they wanted, even if the way they got to 4-0 wasn’t ideal.
But that’s what’s important. MSU is 4-0. Also important: the Bulldogs are relatively healthy, and only getting more-so as the days go by.
For Perkins, fixing the focus and maintaining a cautious distance from doctors becomes the primary goal.
“We know we have to pick it up now, getting into SEC play with some really good teams we have to face, and we have to go on the road, also. We’ve gotta make sure we stay injury free and stay focused at all times,” Perkins said. “We gotta pick it up now. I know everybody is jacked and ready to go practice and play Saturday.”
Oh yeah, Perkins reminds us. The opening game of the SEC gauntlet starts in Lexington, Kentucky, against a Wildcats team who gave No. 6-ranked South Carolina as much as it could handle last weekend.
“First SEC road game should be a challenge for our guys,” Mullen said. “We’re gonna have our hands full going up to their place.”