From The Dawghouse

It's an interesting and sometimes insightful aspect of covering a college team, how key participants in the same game—in this case the same thrilling victory—can see and do explain situations. In this Mississippi State case, the sensitive and strange subject of Respect.

Now do understand; the editor is not one to ruminate and rumble on whether or not the Bulldogs are sufficiently ‘respected' around either conference or country. And objectively it will baffle non-sports types how any team with top-twenty digits in front of the title can consider themselves not respected. Or what's the phrase, disrespected? Hey, spell-check didn't flag it so the word is legit.

But is the idea itself? A career covering college athletes shows yes, it is. These young folk really do respond to such concepts, albeit in different perspectives which leads to the lead. Take these two instructive statements offered immediately after Mississippi State thumped Tennessee to continue its unbeaten season. First, Johnthan Banks on whether beating the Vols was a ‘statement' sort of game and win.

"I hope the other media people don't say we haven't played nobody," Banks responded. "I mean, every week it's something different; we ain't playing nobody, I guess this week it will be Tennessee wasn't on their game. But hopefully we'll get the respect we deserve because our team is for-real, too."

In a bit we'll review just how for-real these 6-0, 3-0 SEC and already bowl-eligible Bulldogs are. But for now here is how Tyler Russell saw the statement-game subject.

"I think so. We really don't care about people respecting us or nothing like that. It just motivates us to keep pushing and keep grinding. I think overall we did what we needed to do, and I think we showed people Mississippi State is for-real."

There you have it; two top Dogs and leaders of their respective sides with somewhat-differing notions on the respect aspect…but both recognizing they made a for-real statement last night. It takes all types to make up a for-real team, after all.

Today, Coach Dan Mullen did clue a few of us (just barely awake by noon) writers on what had made r-e-s-p-e-c-t the previous evening's talking point. First and foremost, "I don't know if it was set by the staff," Mullen said. "It was set by the players. To me, I don't worry about it. To me, if our team respects ourselves, they respect each other and our team."

Sounds fine so far. Ahhh, but then the coach cracked the cliché-door a bit. Odd as it will appear in a matchup of a ranked home team against an unranked guest, State's staff subtly encouraged a us-vs.-them mindset cored on the sort of respect players immediately understand. Using, as well, the sorts of game week questions the press corps had to ask about pending matchups. Mullen appealed to player pride in the best way.

"We have some good players on our team and all they heard all week is Tyler Bray is the best quarterback on the field, they have great wide receivers," said Mullen. "Well, we have a good quarterback, we have some good receivers, and a good secondary. We challenged them all week and they wanted to prove hey, we're not a half-bad team and we have some talent ourselves."

Indeed the Dogs do. Even better from a big-picture perspective, State has a healthy share of talent that is continuing to develop. Put another way, the squad that just beat up on a gifted Tennessee team is far from a finished product for this year and certainly for a 2013 I'm already twitching over. Or maybe it's lack of sleep and overload of coffee; I finished a Tobias Smith (what a great, great young guy) piece around and I'm not exaggerating 4:00 am this morning before logging-off. It's finished and filed but with your kind permission will be activated Monday morning. Thanks.

Anyway, the Bulldogs not only aren't half-bad. They're a little better than half-good in SEC terms here half-way into the schedule. It diminishes nothing to note the three SEC victims are now a collective 0-11 in league play. I mean, how d'ya think teams in the top half of the standings get there? By beating those in the bottom half, duh.

By the way, the #15 ranking this week matches the to-date high for a Mullen squad, as the 2010 team ended at 15th too. Sounds reasonably respectful to this opinionator.

Still for all this splendid stuff we are, as noted, just half-into the entire regular season with much left to be done and won. State folk being what we are, a few flaws leap out more than the overall shiny State situation and today it is the defense's turn to take the criticisms. Just, not so much by me.

Let's do remember, please, that was a quarterback of professional talents (though UT media say his intangibles are iffy) throwing to real NFL-class receivers; backed by a ground game that has come a long way since opening day. And State still held them to only three real drives; eight other possessions lasted five or fewer snaps, which is something Mullen actually forecast from an offense modeled on pro priorities.

So the coach was, generally, content with a defense which did its job. For that matter, State was en route to a romp in the second quarter when that kickoff return ruined it. Now there is where Mullen has much room for wrath, after a second kickoff touchdown in SEC action; both just when the Dogs were grabbing control, and both on the home field to boot. Or rather to boot and cover better. Two touchdown returns is three too many for this coaching staff.

Otherwise? "Our kids played well for four quarters in all three phases of the game. There are always going to be ups and downs and as a mature team we handled those ups and downs to make the plays we needed to."

What else could honestly be asked for from an evening…no, a whole day-and-a-half. My Friday afternoon campus walk showed the building big-game excitement already. When I got to the junction at 5:00 for radio duty (y'all are always welcome to wander by our tent and make fun of host and guest alike, especially when John Bond is doing the talking like yesterday!), even a longtime Dog was amazed and amused by the pregame frenzy. Been a long, too long time since our campus was this energized for anything other than an Egg Bowl, and it was uniformly wonderful. Hopefully that horde of visitors packing the pre-game sideline was suitably impressed too. Our man Steve will be burning the cel minutes seeking their reactions for days.

Even better, more of the same should be in store for the second half. OK, maybe not a top-five crowd will come this weekend as Middle Tennessee won't sell the tickets big Tennessee did. But there's no excuse for any Bulldog fan not to be on hand for Homecoming, right? And goodness knows what it could be like in a few weeks for the A&M matchup.

Speaking of a long night at the keyboard, even before calling it a ni…no, a morning, I was noticing ‘trap game' references for the coming week. Honestly I don't expect the Bulldogs themselves to, shall we say, disrespect the Racers per se. It is more an inevitable case of comedown after a targeted game. Which it was according to Banks. "It's the biggest win probably since I've been here. The biggest win," he said. Quite a commentary from a fellow with Ws over Georgia and Florida two years ago when the program was turning itself around, not to mention the '09 Egg Bowl and a couple of post-season triumphs as well. But Banks was serious.

"This is a game we'd been looking toward since we found out we were playing Tennessee in the spring I guess. I think we got ready for this game all year. All spring, all fall. We got ready and went and played football."

So will they play the same sort of football against another sort of Tennessee team? "It's a major concern," said Mullen today. "And to me it's not the job of the coaching staff." Hang on there, troops, the head coach isn't shirking from game-motivating duty. Keep reading Mullen's explanation.

"I know it sounds like coach–talk, but trust me, that's our whole focus as coaches is this week. Kids are a different deal. And to me it's on the leadership of our team they remain focused on the task at hand. That is wining our homecoming game, protecting our turf, and getting to 7-0."

Now that's a respectable position Banks and Russell are agreed on.

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