Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Mississippi State picking up the pieces
By Alex Scarborough
Take heart Mississippi State, your Bulldogs played well on defense this past weekend. Holding a historically prolific offense like Oklahoma State's to 21 points should be measured as an accomplishment, especially with a secondary that replaced three of four starters. The Cowboys usually hit that mark by halftime. Instead, Jay Hughes & Co. never let Mike Gundy's tempo get going and held Oklahoma State to less than 150 yards passing.
But Hughes, despite his best efforts, wouldn't survive the game as Mississippi State lost one of its most experienced defensive backs for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles.
And that was only the beginning of the bad news for a program that ended last season on a bitter note, losing five of its final six games after starting off 7-0.
With Tyler Russell out of commission, it will be up to Dak Prescott to provide a spark for Mississippi State's struggling offense.
Injuries might be the least of coach Dan Mullen's worries after a disappointing season-opening loss to Oklahoma State. His offense, the one promised to improve with each season since his arrival five years ago, was stagnant, ineffective and, to put it more plainly, bad. The Bulldogs mustered only three points and converted on just two of 16 third-down attempts. Tyler Russell's 10-of-16 passing performance wasn't horrendous, but 133 yards, no touchdowns and an interception were not what you would have expected from a fifth-year senior going up against a defense that finished 110th out of 120 in passing defense last season.
Mississippi State's offense couldn't do anything right in Arlington, Texas. The Bulldogs rushed for a paltry 111 yards and threw for only 6.7 yards per pass. Jameon Lewis returned a kickoff 66 yards to the OSU 34-yard line just before halftime, but a holding penalty and a sack stopped the drive in its tracks.
Even when the Bulldogs did put together a solid drive, they couldn't finish. Their only lead of the game came off a 40-yard field goal when a six-minute, 57-yard drive was cut off short of the red zone.
"I always take responsibility for all the play calling on offense," Mullen told reporters Monday. "'I'm an offensive-oriented coach. To me that all falls on my shoulders. I have a lot of input on the offense. As the head coach that kind of goes on me. I do think in looking back on it, I do think there were times we could've taken some more shots down the field and we had some good one-on-one matchups and didn't take as many shots."
Taking the blame was honorable, but it won't do anything to relieve the growing sense of heat under the head coach's seat at the helm of the football program. There's a buzz growing in Starkville, Miss., and it doesn't favor the current regime.
And to make matters worse, Russell was knocked out of Saturday's game in the third quarter. The concussion he sustained would lead Mullen to announce that Russell would not play in Mississippi State's upcoming game against Alcorn State.
Now, Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning must go back to the drawing board with a new quarterback, Dak Prescott, who doesn't have a single start under his belt. Sure, Prescott is a weapon with his ability to run and throw the football, but there's no substitute for experience.
In that respect, the Alcorn State game comes at the perfect time for Mississippi State to regroup. Prescott should be able to move the offense with his feet and get points on the board. A blowout win would give Mullen cover as his team prepares for Auburn the following week.
But therein lies the rub. Alcorn State will serve as a nice diversion, but if Mississippi State looks like it did against Oklahoma State against an SEC opponent such as Auburn, things could get really interesting in a hurry.