Including Mitchell. A true freshman at the time, he is one of seven current Bulldogs who played in the '08 loss. One, Quentin Saulsberry, started that game at right tackle. A dozen more were on the roster that year but did not participate against Louisiana Tech.
"I had a couple of tackles, playing on special teams and at safety," Mitchell recalls. "I was thrilled to be out there, win or lose." At the time, he meant, because what ballplayer wouldn't be thrilled about getting put on the field at the earliest opportunity as a true frosh? The ride home and shocked silence from teammates was more of a reality check, though.
What stands out now, other than he made the Dog debut, was how the game went wrong. "I remember we lost it pretty much on special teams," Mitchell said. Correct, as with regular return man Derek Pegues suspended that game for spring class non-attendance the Bulldogs lost the opening kickoff of the second half, then muffed a punt recovered on the nine-yard line. Tech cashed in the chance for the go-ahead score and a panicked MSU offense netted nothing the rest of the evening.
It gave a priceless lesson to young Mitchell that while players are recruited for offense and defense, when foot touches ball everything else can change. "Definitely, it's one of the most important aspects of the game. You can win it or lose it there," Mitchell said.
"This year with Coach Mullen coaching the special teams it's going to be a whole lot better and we'll do what we couldn't do my freshman year." The senior safety didn't just mean take care of kicking plays; he meant win just as the '08 team should have. Yes, should have. Though, Mitchell added, there is no real ‘revenge' motive since it's been so long since that debacle. These Bulldogs want to win because after consecutive SEC setbacks they need to win anything again.
At the same time Mitchell is offering that long-ago game as a warning to current players that just because this is not a SEC evening nothing can be taken for granted. Any more, he said, than they did three weeks ago at Memphis.
"We try to eliminate that kind of mindset here anyway, try to get guys not worried about the opponent but worried about your plays and executing, doing your job, eliminating missed assignments and missed tackles. They you can worry about Louisiana Tech."
The best thing that could have happened for State's game-week mentality was watching those other Bulldogs give a high-flying Houston team everything they could handle and more. Yeah, the Dogs are much more familiar with Cougar clubs, so that earned instant respect in the film room review.
"They've got a good running back, a transfer from Tennessee so he knows what it's like to be in the SEC," said Mitchell, talking of 215-pound Lennon Creer. "They've got good receivers, #4 is a big guy." That would be 6-2 juco transfer Quinton Parker. "And we're going to try to mess with the quarterback."
As would any alert defense. How often does one get to gameplan for a 17-year-old triggerman at this level? Mitchell was a week short of turning 19 himself back in the 2008 debut, and said he can't imagine trying to play college football at 17…much less quarterback a Division I-A offense.
"Yeah, that's something else! It will be good for him in the long run if he can stick with it, deal with the bad or good." Of course Mitchell's professional sympathy only extends so far. "No, not this weekend!"
A BIG HIT: Mitchell goes into game-four as the team's leading tackler with 28 stops; nicely balanced between 15 primary hits and 13 assists. His closest competitor lines up a little closer to the scrimmage point, as linebacker Cameron Lawrence now has 24 total tackles. But the junior has a big early lead in tackles for losses with 3.5, a sack, two passes deflected, and a fumble forced. Mitchell has none of those so far.
Lawrence shrugs off the impressive September numbers. "I came into the season with a lot of expectations, so I'm trying to live up to them. I'm playing like I have a chip on my shoulder, I've got something to prove every time I step on the field."
If there's any chip on his shoulder padding, it is soon knocked loose. Lawrence finds his way into all available contact as befits a Bulldog linebacker. The weak-side guy, mostly, Lawrence clarified. "That would be my primary position I guess." The uncertainty only relates to title, not role, since Coach Geoff Collins and coordinator Chris Wilson like their linebackers to be comfortable working on any side.
And Lawrence is in his comfort zone these days as the starter…just not so comfy as to relax about either his status or assignments. "No doubt. That goes to the coaches having us prepare, they're doing a tremendous job of that.
"And I'm doing all the extra film study so that when I step on the field I know what they're doing before they do it. It's helped me out." As the stat sheet shows. Lawrence also got a significant seal of approval this week when Coach Dan Mullen complimented his play, as well as how much more progress is expected. The head coach favorably compared Lawrence to graduated standouts K.J. Wright and Chris White.
"Those are two big-time guys who got drafted," said Lawrence. "I haven't been able to keep up with them a lot but I know they were tremendous players here. So having Coach Mullen say something about that means a lot to me."
It means much to the whole ‘backer bunch too, because the group has inevitably been questioned by fan and media comparisons to the 2010 trio of White, Wright, and Emannuel Gatling. It's probably not fair since these aren't just different players, they are different bodies. By design, Lawrence said.
"Chris and K.J. were big guys, long guys. But we've got more athletic, smaller, faster, speed-mentality guys. That's kind of the difference between last year." Yet there hasn't been quite as much down-sizing as might appear. Lawrence began August camp at 230 pounds and "I'm still floating around there," he said. "It's hard to keep during a season." Especially given that three years ago the younger Lawrence reported to campus not even at 200 pounds.
"But I got with Coach Balis and had tremendous weight gains, tremendous strength gains, speed gains. He's got me ready to play."
TRANSFER TECH: As Mitchell mentioned earlier, Louisiana Tech features a former Tennessee player as their starting running back. He is one of four transfers from four-year colleges now on the Tech roster.
Where Coach Sonny Dykes is really applying the fast-fix to his program is the more typical two-year transfer. No less than 24 members of the published roster came from a junior college or military school.
The Dykes name is familiar to veteran Bulldog fans. His father Spike was offensive line coach at Mississippi State in 1979, the first season for head coach Emory Bellard. Sonny was nine years old at the time.
MARK IT DOWN: Mississippi State officials confirmed Tuesday that the FCS-game date for 2013 has been contracted officially. Mississippi Valley State had already been listed as the '13 opener in publications last year, including Dawgs' Bite.
Valley is the last of the state's three SWAC programs to play State. The Bulldogs hosted Alcorn State in '10 and opened in '09 against Jackson State, winning both. Jackson State is due to open the 2012 season on September 1 too. But, that date might be in-flux as MSU seeks a replacement opponent for Louisiana Tech.
Tech is breaking the contracted '12 game to take a much more profitable deal with Virginia, even after paying the penalty. They were due back on campus September 15. Now A.D. Scott Stricklin is still looking for a replacement with less than a calendar year left to game-date. He has mentioned moving the Jackson State game within the schedule to open up the first Saturday of September if that is what it takes to seal a deal. Stricklin said last Thursday that he has been in conversations with "two or three" schools about playing at MSU next year, without saying who.
Stricklin also said he is not waiting on eventual conference expansion to fill that date. Other MSU staff have said there is the possibility of playing a second FCS team in '12 if necessary, but a FBS foe is still the goal, for a home game.