Dak Prescott, eyes unfocused, looked somewhere over the heads of the reporters surrounding him and asking questions about a game in which he threw three interceptions and his previously-undefeated Bulldogs suffered loss for the first time all season.
“It sucks,” he said. “Regardless of how we’ve done before. I don’t like this feeling.”
No one around him did, not in the locker room. Not on the sideline, either, and certainly not in the collective hearts of the Mississippi State fans who thought this trip to Alabama was going to be different. But it wasn’t. Not in the final score, anyway – 25-20, home team. No one in history has beaten MSU more than ‘Bama. The Tide haven’t had as much success against anyone all-time as they have the Bulldogs.
State was determined to break the pattern, but history, as it so regularly seems to do, repeated itself. It was different this time, though. Far different for MSU, team and fans alike. The Bulldogs were undefeated, No. 1 in the country for the first time in their 100-plus year history of fielding teams. That made the buildup up to Saturday better than ever. And it made the loss harder than almost anything State fans have experienced, simply because there had never been so much on the line, dreams of National Titles and Heismans dancing in their heads.
Lord Tennyson suggested it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. With the disappointment and seemingly-broken dreams they have now, might it have actually been worse to have been first and lost than to have never been first at all for these Bulldogs? As terrible as MSU feels now, a world seemingly thrown into darkness in the middle of the day, Dan Mullen’s words to his team offered no hint of the end being near.
“We should feel awful right now. We just lost a football game,” Mullen said. “We should embrace that feeling, that sickness in our stomach right now. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
That’s the option the Bulldogs have now. With two games left in the regular season, Mississippi State and its fanbase can accept the Shakespearean ending, drink the poison and die together, or they can stand back up, fight the forces standing against them and re-enter the battlefield hand-in-hand. Josh Robinson knows the choice his gridiron brothers will make.
“I know my teammates,” he said. “We have that bond. We’re never gonna roll over. That’s just not us. It’s not in our character, it’s not in us.” Said Prescott, “We know the team we are. I still think we’re one of the best four teams in the country, we just played one of the other best four teams in the country. I consider it an early playoff game.”
They may need help to do it, but the Bulldogs have things to build on. Especially coming out of a game where Prescott totaled nearly 400 yards, despite his three interceptions, and in a game where MSU’s defense looked championship-caliber for nearly the whole show, tiring just once when Blake Sims and TJ Yeldon worked third down magic again and again to strike the final blow.
The road is harder, yes, but the 9-1 Bulldogs are still alive for the playoffs, still in reach of the best season in school history, and heck, they’re still tied for first in the SEC. They don’t need that much help.
Hope is not lost where passion remains. MSU is down for the night, but far, far from out.
“We haven’t felt this way in a while and I don’t want to feel this way again,” Prescott said. “I’ll remember this feeling I have in my stomach.”
Hope can be a dangerous thing to lose, but motivation is a far more powerful tool to wield.
“Every goal we have,” Mullen said, “is still intact.”