Sunday ThingamaBob: Delving into a tough-to-swallow game

It seems a bit difficult to properly put last night’s game into words – all of it – but such is the task charged today.

CCKYRSSAZWTJHME.20130915015526Mississippi State lost to Auburn 24-20, and where do we start? Had the last 30 seconds gone differently we would be talking about the coming out party for Dak Prescott. After all, MSU held the lead as the clock wound down to the final seconds, less than a minute left in the game with seemingly in firm command.

The Bulldogs’ secondary allowed 339 passing yards, though the much-hyped Auburn rush attack only managed 120 yards of its own.

Odd as it sounds, Auburn only scored two touchdowns, while MSU sniffed paydirt three times.

For the overwhelming majority of the game, MSU looked like the better team. They played like the better team. But it’s not boxing. It’s not skating or gymnastics. There are no judges. Just a machine. A scoreboard, with no thoughts, emotions or eyes of its own, a hunk of metal and light deciding a winner without bias and beyond reproach.
When the game ended, the scoreboard said the home team won, despite the efforts of Dan Mullen’s team. Someone has to lose and just as often as not, it seems the wrong team bears that burden.

And it’s a tough burden to share among those in the locker room.

“We didn’t finish,” a frustrated Mullen told reporters.

Not earth-shattering, but true. For as great as MSU looked most of the game, the offense couldn’t get one more score, nor could the defense prevent a second touchdown when it mattered the most.

That’s why it hurts the players and coaches and fans.

MMFEOEEZLHLSGEK.20130915015525

Were the score unknown, MSU would have a lot to be happy about, much encouragement to be taken in their first SEC game.

They won the turnover battle 3-0. Prescott, in his second start of his career, accounted for 346 yards and two touchdowns, without a single turnover.

Nine different players rushed the ball. The offensive line paved the way for five yards per carry by those rushers, while never allowing a sack of their quarterback.

MSU’s defense racked up three sacks, two forced fumbles, four tackles for loss, two interceptions and a quarterback hurry, while sophomore linebacker Benardrick McKinney led all players with nine tackles.

But then, weird things happened. Auburn’s quarterback Nick Marshall completed a 37-yard pass to himself in what almost could have been a pick-six for MSU. The Bulldogs got two late-game turnovers and couldn’t turn either into points. Finally, much to Mullen’s chagrin, MSU finished 5 of 15 on third down, despite being a perfect 100 percent (2 for 2) on fourth down.

It’s frustrating for all involved far or near, without question.

But in the disappointment outside MSU’s locker room, the shocked faces within and heavy hearts underneath every set of pads, it wasn’t the end.

Cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend walked out of the locker room with his bag on his shoulder and a face nearly devoid of emotion after having spent it all the last five hours.

From across the gate by the buses there came a squeal and a blur of motion and bouncing hair as Townsend’s daughter sprinted to her dad and jumped into his arms, wrapping her own around his neck and burying her face in his chest.

Daddy couldn’t help but smile as he hugged his daughter. She was just happy to see him, not quite old enough to track the gravity of what happened, but aware enough to know game days are a big deal.

As Townsend walked toward his wife with his daughter in his arms, his son walked up and wrapped an arm around his dad, older and more aware but still barely standing higher than his father’s waist. Loss or not, that warmth melted his frozen countenance.

On the bus back to Starkville, a member of the athletic department started a conversation with me.

“You know what the best thing about love is, Bob? When I get home, my wife is going to be waiting on me with a hug and a smile. Always, win or lose.”

Closer to the buses after the game, Tyler Russell smiled as a little girl, and a big fan, took her picture with him.

Somewhere between Jordan-Hare Stadium and the Seal Family Football Complex, LaDarius Perkins tweeted “Better days ahead. #hailstate.” Dillon Day added on, “No doubt. Stay strong everyone, thanks for the support.”

VPDDULQXQWVKZCW.20130915015526They’re frustrated, and they know everyone else is, too. But that support, the love, whether it be from family, friends or just those who unconditionally cherish the Maroon and White, is what allows them to keep going, to take the good, learn from the bad and return to work the next day, preparing for the next opponent.

Dak Prescott late Saturday night/Sunday morning: “Back in Starkville and realized there’s no town I’d rather be in! Thanks for the support and love. We WILL bounce back #NoDoubt #HailState”

Now, for some additional thoughts and observations. I won’t hit on some of the previous people and numbers mentioned, but a few more deserve noting.

  • We didn’t say a thing about right guard Ben Beckwith all night and that’s about the best compliment you can give an offensive lineman. Like Prescott, he got his first start last week due to injury and played his first SEC start beautifully. The interior of MSU’s line might quietly be the most impressive part of the night, paving the way for a lot of big runs and protecting Prescott.
  • BMYKUVGEDTYTDFB.20130915020613It may have just been a function of the coverage, but I think it’s fair to say Prescott likes junior receiver Robert Johnson. He led the game with 84 yard on four catches, having a big game we’ve been waiting to see from him.
  • It was also good to see sophomore Joe Morrow get four catches of his own, totaling 40 yards. He’s been making more plays with each successive game.
  • Mullen expressed regret after the game that he didn’t get Perkins more carries (eight for 36 yards) and there is some truth to that, though MSU’s stable of runners is quite deep, even without a mobile quarterback.
  • On that note, Mullen also said he’d rather not have as many runs for Prescott, the QB getting 22 last night. Though he certainly did well with them, racking up 133 yards and a pair of touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
  • QTNBCJTYAMDGAAD.20130915035006Defensively, I did find it interesting (in a good way) to see sophomore Ryan Brown get the start at defensive end. He’s part of what we saw a lot of last night: length. Between he, Preston Smith, Denico Autry, Matt Wells, Taveze Calhoun and a few others, MSU has a lot of long arms on defense, great for knocking down passes and reaching inside to extract balls from rushers.
  • Three guys who stood out to me for one reason or another: Deontae Skinner (first career sack), A.J. Jefferson (great job creating pressure) and Richie Brown, who had one of the more impressive sacks I’ve seen, throwing Marshall to the ground with what looked like a considerable amount of passion and anger.
  • The negative for the defense was a lot of busted coverage. I imagine we’ll hear the term “missed assignments” when they talk about it. Whether it was players slipping, missing or just getting burned, Auburn had a few too many receivers running alone in the deep parts of the field. It was the first we’ve seen of that all year and usual starting corner Jamerson Love was a little limited, it seemed, due to injury, so whether or not this is a long-term concern remains up for debate, though I won’t worry unless we see it again.
  • EGJHTBUGJJULPXA.20130915031814On the plus side: hello, Nickoe Whitley. Two interceptions? If I’m not mistaken, he’s now tied for the lead among active players in interceptions per game.
  • Also, has Taveze Calhoun become MSU’s best cornerback? The third-year sophomore has dealt with injuries and never got talked about much in offseasons past because of it, but now that he’s a starter he keeps making plays and is reliable in coverage.
  • On special teams, punter Baker Swedenburg continues to be one of MSU’s best players, 46.6 yards per kick last night, including a 52-yarder.
  • Mullen talked a bit about sophomore place kicker Devon Bell on the teleconference, who had touchbacks on three out of four kicks last night. His field goal kicking from short distance has been inconsistent, which Mullen credits to his powerful leg, saying he kicks everything like it’s a 50-yarder. Bell is an extremely talented kicker and the issues don’t seem beyond repair.
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19 Responses to Sunday ThingamaBob: Delving into a tough-to-swallow game

  1. J Stringer says:

    MSU was out coached. Secondary REALLY needs help. And when you have a lead, don’t play NOT to lose. Constant runs up the middle and a prevent defense. Dak played a great game along with others. THAT is what makes this hurt, for the players. Mullen’s career is 0-16 vs ranked teams and Auburn is no where near a ranked team. They could and should be 1-2, BUT they are 3-0.

  2. Good story but better days are probably not ahead, as we still have to play Bama, LSU, A&M, and South Carolina which will be at least 3 losses if not all 4. A winning season and a bowl game are looking far out of reach and for a 5th year under Mullen, it’s really not acceptable.

  3. Butch says:

    Mullen needs to learn to coach the game to win not coach the not too lose

  4. Richard says:

    I want more but am looking at the long run and this is a young team. It will get better. The team played a good game. Lot of positives to take away from this game. Everybody just need to chill out with the coach has got to go stuff. we are nowhere near there yet. Look back at how many 3/8’s Sherrill had. Give the guys a break.

  5. Steve R. Barrett says:

    I think coach Mullen did a good job. He is a good coach and his day will come. Look how long it took South Carolina’s Coach to get a great winning season. It takes time and recruits! Coach Mullen has a lot of competition in recruiting. He needs help from everybody in recruiting. We need Coach Mullen and we need every Mississippi State Fan to get the word out. State is ready to win. If you want to be on a winning team with super fan base and great coaching, come join the fun! We must step up and help Coach Mullen.!!!!!! Hail State!

    • J. Warren says:

      What can we alumni do differently? What do alumni at neighboring SEC-W schools do differently? Maybe Coach Mullen could tell us what Florida alumni do differently. I don’t think we can simply get the word out that we’re “a winning team with super fan base and great coaching” when schools in our neighboring states are saying the same thing – and they’ve got the numbers to back it up!

  6. kelvin says:

    Simply put Mullens and defensive coor. played not to lose. I am long time State fan and I am tired of excuses. We are young so are other teams and they win. Two poorly coached games Ok. State and Auburn.

  7. keith oussterhout says:

    Two things stick out in mind a day after the close loss. First is the two-point conversion attempt early in the game that failed and a missed chip-shot field goal. Four total points which a team in our strong conference has to get every game.

  8. Jimmie Lee says:

    Recruiting is the key, that is evident with the success that TSUN is having thus far. However, great teams DO NOT let the opposition dictate how they play. They may make adjustments, but ultimately they stick to the game plan and force the other team to make monumental changes to keep up. We should be 3-0! We have out played all three of our opponents for the majority of all three games. We, coaches AND players, take too many series off, thus we are 1-2.

  9. Bill Kindred says:

    I agree that we played not to lose. This usually does not turn out well for us. This has been a characteristic of our teams. Good effort from players. Coach Mullin needs to learn what term finishing means. If you are going to take a chance on the 4th and short from deep in your territory let Qb put ball in air to make effort to score. They had defense stacked. Our Defense played too soft and did not challenge which opened lane lane for their Qb to run.

  10. Bill Kindred says:

    Reference to defense playing soft was on last drive by Auburn. Defense played pretty well for game.

  11. Kyle Hull says:

    Devon Bell is not a talented kicker. In three games he’s missed two field goals and a PAT. We do have a girls soccer team and I’d bet a hundred dollars that the best girl on the team could consistently do a better job than him. Just a suggestion.

  12. Betty Sue Wilson says:

    We love our Dawgs and support them.

  13. Bobby Britt says:

    I have been a fan for fifty years love the dawgs. I an tired of hearing wait till next year. I would like to just once see win now. I know these are good players, and good coaches, so what is the problem. FAN support? will we win four games this year. I will still be a fan what about the rest of you.

  14. Bill Burgess says:

    I’ve been a fan since I was 10 years old (62 years) and I’ll keep on “waiting ’til next year”!! I’m not giving up!

  15. james gregory says:

    No question about it, we had the better team but were outcoached. Hopefully, they will learn from this and turn it around. It’s not too late.

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