Strong word from the stronger Chris Jones after Mississippi State lost to Alabama Saturday night.
The narrative for a moral victory is easy, but it doesn’t matter. Not to Jones, not to Dan Mullen, not to anyone in MSU’s locker room after the 20-7 loss.
Opportunities have been there, as MSU has taken Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M all into the fourth quarter.
This weekend, Nick Saban’s team was held to half it’s scoring average (just over 40 points per game entering the weekend), turned the ball over four times after averaging 0.93 per game the last six years and saw quarterback A.J. McCarron under more pressure than he’d had in years.
Despite the losses, MSU has played probably its best two games of the season the last two weeks.
On Monday, I watched and listened to Mullen’s press conference and thought the same thing that went on to cross my mind every time I was around a player or coach over the course of the week – he was loose and happy.
Saturday night was as excited and organically open as I’ve seen MSU at least all season, maybe longer.
Pardon the cliché, but they played like they had nothing to lose, and it showed.
Around 100 people expected MSU to win that game, Mullen said, and every single one of them was in the locker room after the loss.
Only to again fall short.
I don’t know the solution, and if it were easy enough to pinpoint it likely would’ve been fixed already. It might be coaching, perhaps mental mistakes by young players or even something as simple as depth.
It does, however, seem that MSU is close to the end of the proverbial tunnel. The light is shining and the Bulldogs have nearly reached its warmth more than once this season. It can be both frustrating and exciting to be so close.
Moving forward, be it next week, Thanksgiving or 2014, the question is if MSU has the heart to keep doing what got them this far and let it carry them to where they want to be.
Based on what they’ve shown the last two weeks, this group seems like one to be motivated both by failure and near success, rather than roll over after disappointment.
I’ll keep it short, but I do have a few observations and notes from the game.
- I’m not sure we talk enough about defensive line coach David Turner and the job he’s done. MSU’s front has given opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks trouble all season, leading one Alabama OL to call Saturday’s match-up the most physical and difficult game they’ve played.
- Junior defensive end Preston Smith has been playing tremendously and racked up three quarterback hurries on Bama, the most against the Tide by an individual player since Nick Fairley in 2009.
- And true freshmen D-lineman Chris Jones may have played the best game of his young career, with a sack, pass breakup and quarterback hurry, in addition to constant pressure and penetration.
- A note on MSU’s youth on defense: three of MSU’s top four tacklers were either sophomores or freshman with Kendrick Market (10 tackles), Beniques Brown (6) and Will Redmond (5) all popping up at the top of MSU’s defensive stat chart.
- Then, of course, there was sophomore Taveze Calhoun, the cornerback who picked off McCarron twice.
- Funny that against the best team in the country, we saw the best example of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins’ “defensive mayhem” mantra.
- Offensively, MSU had the same problem that has plagued them from time-to-time this year, being able to move the ball but failing to score often.
- Seeing Tyler Russell, Malcolm Johnson (six catches, 84 yards) and LaDarius Perkins make plays to move MSU down the field was what we spent much of the offseason preparing ourselves for.
- This is weird to say about someone who was 0-for-5, but I thought true freshman quarterback Damian Williams played well when put into a very difficult situation after Russell was injured. Three of his passes were very well placed, two that would’ve been first downs and one that would’ve been a touchdown to fellow true freshman De’Runnya Wilson had he been able to get a handle on the ball.