From The Dawghouse

Upon further review I might have had it wrong last night. When suggesting the Bulldogs should assemble at midfield, doff those dark jerseys, and have an impromptu bonfire, I mean. Today I suggest it was extra inspiration from the untraditional tone which sparked Mississippi State to earn overtime and escape devastating upset. Now, excuse me while I wrench tongue from cheek and get serious.

Besides, the real Mississippi State issue of the new day isn't style, it is substance. Or put another way, the fourth and final September game was a statement about much more than fashion. It lent a disturbing hue to the October view barring some pretty swift switches for the better.

Let's set the stage fairly though. It was a victory, and any Bulldog disdaining that fundamental fact either doesn't have long enough MSU memory…or they've fortunately forgotten such past situations that were not salvaged at the end. We've assuredly seen other State squads fail to come through as this one did, a point in their favor and a pointer to progress.

For that matter a loss last night to Louisiana Tech would not have been the same sort of setback as, well, Louisiana Tech 2008 when an entire season spun utterly out of control internally. That ain't happening under this regime. Nor would this have been remotely comparable to, say, Maine '04 or Tulane '03 or Troy State '01. Those debacles exposed inherent weaknesses developed over years and which would take more years to fix.

A better comparison would be, for them that remembers, 1993 Arkansas State. A Homecoming game against a 1-6 designated victim, where the Indians were literally on MSU's one-yard line in the last minute. Only a procedure penalty and lack of timeouts forced ASU to kick a tying field goal at nine seconds. Now THAT was embarrassing for a program coming off consecutive bowl trips…and heading back to another the next year.

Other than reminding I've been at this too long, that example oughtn't be an exact parallel. These Bulldogs are still a third of the way through the season, and a third of the way to bowl eligibility again. And, realistically, 2-2 is where the more conservative forecasters (ahem) figured the Dogs would be after a month. Of course we can look at it two other, equal ways: this team is both one yard away from 3-1…and one unwise pass by a 17-year-old quarterback away from 1-3.

The present point is State sits break-even heading into an October—and realistically we may as well include the first November game with UT-Martin—where at the very least they should remain on bowling schedule. It is that ‘very least' bit that has Bulldog folk on edge, though. Even after Auburn there were realistic hopes of seven, eight wins the rest of the way. That was before Tobias Smith went down for the season, James Carmon was sidelined, Quentin Saulsberry was sprained, and the offense shifted into neutral.

What was it we all crossed-fingers over during the lead-up to 2011? Yep, offensive line. Besides the unrealistic task of fully replacing two top talents, keeping the first five healthy was vital. For the injury bug to bite so hard there, and in such a short span, has thrown just about the entire offense off their expected stride. Not that I'm saying anything fans don't already know, it's just a reminder that when runners are stuffed almost upon exchange and passes aren't getting to targets on time the first place to check is in front of them. I'd expect Carmon to return this week, and in the longer view kids like Dillon Day and Blaine Clausell will be better for the harsh experience. Hey, at least they got to redshirt before being thrown into SEC action as Sherrod was. (Ohhhh, if only he had been able to redshirt in '08; what would this line be like today with a fifth-year senior at left tackle?)

But there is no time or temptation for really longer-viewing this week. Georgia is on MSU minds immediately, and finding enough Ws to get a real bowling streak starting not far behind. My mind, at least; others may accuse Yer Editer of typical pessimism and that's fair. But if some Benevolent Gridiron Deity offered four more guaranteed wins and, ohhh say the Liberty Bowl (don't think Memphis would want a 6-6 Vandy after they lose to Tennessee) I'd accept it graciously. Doubt Dan Mullen would care for such talk but he doesn't read this anyway, wise young man that he is.

Instead he's already putting Georgia gameplanning in motion. And, stressing something to his troops that a few fans still don't want to hear as their home-game hangovers linger. "It's great to get a win," he said today. "Any time you can do that, especially in a tough environment and the way we did it, is exciting." Yeah, it was that…two ultra-timely interceptions to stave off upset, and a remarkable touchdown toss for the win. Doesn't get much more exciting than that, if you like trauma with your drama.

By the way, do watch Chris Relf's pass again and from an end zone angle if available. He had a 330-pound lineman coming in, fortunately just to his left side a bit leaving the throwing arm room to, well, throw. But Relf not only had to lean right and a bit back, he literally double-clutched and then let it go about 3/4s sidearm as baseball coaches would call it. He showed both pure arm-strength but by far, by far his best accuracy of the evening when it mattered most. Kudos to LaDarius Perkins for picking up the ball in the lights, too. Re-read the game story for details on how much went right on that play.

Mullen is Relf's strongest defender and obviously the only one with an opinion that counts. Honestly though, a lot of the static he's hearing isn't merited. I don't want to pile-on a short-handed line, please, but look at it another way. It isn't just that Relf is hampered by erratic blocking, which clearly contributes to some hesitation on his part to continue with a play and then default to a keeper right into the pile. The real fact is this: Relf is the best Bulldog quarterback capable of handling this situation.

Tyler Russell needs time for pass plays to develop, though his release can be quicker once begun, and time is something State ain't getting. Nor, and this is an even sorer subject, are receivers getting sufficient separation. I didn't expect this bunch to be remarkably faster, but neither did I anticipate how slowly things develop downfield even against non-SEC defenses. I'd likely be overstepping editorial bounds to suggest a return to the quicker slants and outs and such that we used to see from State. But I also wonder, did missing another year with injury set Marcus Green back THAT far? All he had to do was break off his man in the end zone last night as, I have to think, called and he scores an easy touchdown. Got to wonder if some confidence has been lost here, too.

Oh, as for the other quarterback option; Dylan Favre would almost certainly have been #2 last night as Russell reported with a sleeve on one knee and was taking pre-game snaps with the third center. The mind boggles though at what Favre would have done had State panicked and put him in for the fourth quarter. He might have run wild and created big plays; he might equally have run just as wild and thrown it all away. We'll never know but, like the head coach, I'm for playing the percentages on the home field. Another by-the-way: Mullen was right, on one of those last-regulation-series runs the crease almost developed for a big gainer into field-goal range at least.

The topic was so obvious even Georgia media calling into today's teleconference wanted to know what the deal is with a State offense that piled up yards and points the first two weeks. Mullen has the answer, as expected. "A little bit of everything, we've just got to execute cleaner," he said.

"We have a bunch of things we need to fix up. But we haven't hit a panic button, we're not scrapping anything we're doing right now. We just have to execute better." Oh, and you were looking for big changes and fast fixes? Not this team or regime. One-third of the way into a season is no time to toss the gameplan and scrap the lineup, unless one is only looking to excite unhappy fans over seeking real success. Not that I'm implying anything about anyone else we know, understand…State should be past that point by now.

Actually points are on Mullen's mind today. He's done some calculating and come up with numbers not to his liking. "So far in the red zone we've left 42 points on the field, if you look at not scoring and field goals over touchdowns. If there's one part we really need to clean up its red zone scoring and offense, that we're getting touchdowns and not field goals."

It's easy to overlook something sorta encouraging. Yeah, the Bulldog defense has allowed too many yards and third-down conversions in real games—can't count Memphis among that number now, and if the Big East wants a basketball-only school to add they could choose worse. Yet State has only allowed three touchdowns the last two games, so down near the goal line they're doing something right. And for all the kickoff and coverage woes, the punting and returning games are coming into their own. Still think Jameon Lewis is gonna break something, soon. Now if only he'd take all that physical talent and add real understanding of route-running and blocking, then we'd have one of the speed receivers State so, so badly needs. Oh, would it be pushing that panic button to activate Joe Morrow?

Mullen really is right about the value of just winning, no matter who or what level the victim is. And remember that State wasn't all that sharp last year taking care of UAB and Alcorn State, or even Kentucky. No, I don't call this the sort of ‘playing down' that we saw from previous decades of Dog teams, but some laxness was likely inevitable even here in year-three. What matters now is shrugging off the fear of failure that developed through last night, as proven by the wild celebrating upon winning, and rebuilding confidence for resumption of SEC action. Georgia is beatable, sure…but boy do they have athletes on both sides of the ball. State hasn't won there since, gag this was before I was born, 1956. Heck, Mullen has never worked a game at Sanford Stadium in HIS whole life.

So it'll be telling to find what the oddsmakers think of this matchup, or more accurately how much under-Dogs the MSU Dogs are. I reckon they'll be watching weekly updates on Carmon as closely as the rest of us. Good luck getting accurate info on Russell's practice health though…and if you do, don't post it please.

Really, the substance of September is that an injury-hit Bulldog team had the internal health to salvage success when it would have been so, so easy to yield to woe-is-us as have many past squads. Such things matter for what it says about the state of State today…and how the program continues to develop.

Now, what also appears to matter to some folk is, well, appearance. Yeah, having dealt with substance we had to bring this back around the style side of things before wrapping. My opinion on non-official-hue uniforms is well-known and very-boring, so I won't argue the ‘rights' and ‘wrongs' of black jerseys per se at State.

It's the, ohhh, I guess the impression behind it worth commenting on. I really do understand the marketing angle and don't object to MSU making money off all sorts of garment-and-gimcrack opportunities. I haven't griped, much, about baseball wearing black, have I?

It's probably a moot point to complain. Though had the game gone the other way there really might've been a public jersey burning on the first weekend of fall. As for the dubious fan argument that ‘recruits like it' I have to wonder why any program with a shred of pride would allow image to be dictated by 17-and-18-year-olds. Think about it, most of them won't or can't be signed, and many will end up playing for opponents…but we let them tell us what our team color schemes should be? I don't get it.

‘Tradition' is in the eye, and heart, of the beholder, and if we generations of fans disagree on what it means that's natural. I don't complain that State doesn't use the ‘swoosh M' helmet logo of the 60s, for instance, though it'd be a fun throwback on occasion. Now THERE is an opportunity. The only sancrosanct image left is baseball's block MS, all else is subject to annual change here and we must learn to live with it.

But the colors? As long as our alma mater is ‘Maroon and White' I'd just as soon stick to that style. Those lyrics still have substance to some of us.

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