Now do not misunderstand. In no way should we be soothing-over the sting of last night's rude reminder that no, Mississippi State remains a step or three away from elite SEC status. Or maybe we should say a couple more recruiting classes and continued development of current Bulldogs from realistically taking the measure of a motivated Alabama team. Oh yes, the Crimson Tide was primed for that one more than any meeting in many, many seasons. Perhaps our down-in-the-dumps fans can take something from that?
Or that getting shellacked by the best bunch on this side of the country (by the way, don't we want to see Oregon vs. Alabama for the crystal? I like how Kansas State and Notre Dame play but they're lesser and/or lighter versions of Alabama and have no chance to my mind); and just falling four poll slots offers further evidence of respect. Maybe more for the winning team, true, but somebody somewhere is giving game Mississippi State at least a few bones of credit today.
We oughtn't fall terribly far in the B.C.S. calculations either, meaning the Bulldogs remain realistically in the hunt for a very nice bowl…if. Yeah, if they don't let one back-to-reality loss leave them so rattled they take too long before focusing on Texas A&M. Or as we dared start discussing last week, when the We Believe fervor was peaking, if State doesn't let one defeat turn into another.
That might have been the one slender silver sliver last night. Getting slapped around so efficiently and early allowed lots of sideline time for self-reflection BEFORE getting on the bus. There were veterans already chatting, presumably about what is next. And credit Mullen and Joe Galbraith for selecting the three captains to handle post-game interviews; they knew what to say, what not to say, and how to say it. Or not.
The coach certainly was ready to state the obvious today regarding the week ahead. "The emotional part is obvious, that's why this is the biggest game of the year. We had a nine-game win streak, our guys responded week in and week out pretty well in winning games we should have won. We even put ourselves in some situations to face adversity in success, (to) slip up in so-called trap games, and won. Now we have a different adversity we face now, how we come off a loss."
Which in no way downplays the general disappointment. The look on John Banks' face in interviews was shall we say grim. As if he was looking back from a distance already and more angry now than anything. Angry at himself first and foremost as a captain ought be, but also at missing out on the great goal of his senior season; to play for Division and league titles. Numbers remain in play but players know better than we the odds of Alabama losing twice next month. Cam Lawrence, still wearing warpaint, was a bit calmer by then but also self-analyzing all the what-ifs. And as you'd expect Tobias Smith was already thinking ahead to continuing possibilities. Lord, but I do so love those level-headed linemen.
For that matter Mullen was much calmer after the immediate fact than many of those fans who'd so enthusiastically Believed all week. More on that in a moment. This morning's game review even offered optimistic items for the head coach. Not as many as on the other side of the loss-ledger, of course. "It's disappointing, a lot of critical errors we made that you can't make against a number-one team," Mullen said. "We talked all week about executing at an extremely high level for sixty minutes; we can see some significant breakdowns and the errors jump out."
"But there were also some positives on the film, some things we did well. And we need to build on that because this week is going to be our biggest game of the season coming up."
Acknowledging that what a coach calls positive might miss the eye of a fan, much less a reporter, I reckon all agree Tyler Russell showed his truly tough side. Officially sacked just once, Russell took other shots which would have rattled any college quarterback yet didn't develop any bad (re: get rid of the ball early) reactions. That response might merit more respect than all his season statistics as well as the records he's on pace to shatter. Now if only he'd lofted that goal-line pass just a couple of feet higher…
By the way, Mullen shot down Sunday suggestions Dak Prescott ought to have been inserted there anyway. "No, we didn't score so the easy thing is to say boy we should have tried a different play on that! But we had the plan in and kind of followed the plan we wanted to take. And their kids made the play and we didn't." Imagine that, the #1 defense in the game making plays on a short field. Though I'd really like to see LaDarius Perkins' second-down dive again from a goal line angle. Let's not overlook the toughness Perk too demonstrated; some of those two-yard gains were better efforts than many of his touchdown totes this year.
Up to that end zone interception Mullen thought how State came all the way from the other two-yard line was a good sign. "Our first two drives I thought we executed fairly well, that 97-yard drive we executed very well, there was no panic even coming out of the end zone." Still each positive was trumped by at least a couple of negatives; the one that burned Mullen most was an unnecessary holding right as State converted a tough third down in the second quarter.
And all those kicking-game catastrophes… Two kickoff return fumbles, one lost; giving up an opening return; earning, yes earning a penalty for getting in the punt receiver's facemask, and most of all the blocked field goal. If not for Baker Swedenburg's typical steady punting with just one return for only four yards, and a pair of solid kickoff returns albeit fumbled, special teams would have been a full write-off. Those gaffes alone would have lost the game in fact, even without Alabama playing at its offensive sharpest all season to my eye. Unlike a few preceding performances the Tide really, really wanted to make a statement in this game, didn't they?
Well, we'll leave the rest of review to coaches and club. I kinda imagine even they might be challenged completely focusing on the film (side note: why do we still call it that?) when you just know their minds are already on this week, the weekend, and the necessary response. Another side note: please folks don't get into comparing scores. Haven't you noticed too how, with just the few exceptions who happen to hold down the top ranking slots, there really aren't many true trends week-to-week elsewhere. Or put another way, Mississippi State's defense is much farther ahead of, oh let's say Auburn's, than is Alabama over the Bulldogs.
This isn't to suggest State is about to shut down an Aggie offense that is purely fun to watch otherwise. And we've seen a lot of it before first-hand, remember, in those two Houston games. Mullen's second team beat it on the road, and his '09 club could and maybe should have at Scott Field had the first-year coach encouraged a review of that mistaken over-the-line penalty that negated a touchdown pass. Not that I'm still bitter a bit, of course…
Nor should you fans mope around this week deflated and, well, dis-Believing. I don't diminish what was lost, though I'll also confess harboring doubts about the matchup; if that makes me an unbeliever well, I've been metaphorically staked and torched lots of times already. I really, really do like the 2013 outlook though if that makes you feel better. The fact remains, that outpouring of mid-season support need not drain away. No, not even if State comes up short this Saturday, too, in what I really expect to be a true shootout on Scott Field.
Here's my point. The Bulldogs themselves will respond because youth handles such stuff better and they have practices to vent any lingering frustrations. Plus they have much still to be won, such as a better bowl bid. By the way, the Chick-fil-A rep came by State's postgame last night so we stay in good standing with that Atlanta game, if not the one the Dogs wanted most. One year at a time, fellows. I expect more of those blazered boys to attend this game as both State and A&M have much to offer any postseason classic. Including New Years Day games of which the Dogs very much keep contending for no matter what happens this week.
That's why there is no, repeat no excuse not to have a packed house, even if it weren't already the commemoration of the 2000 Snow Bowl. Nor is there any reason for Belief to be banished from the 2012 mindset. Sure there'll be no lack of rude ribbing from rivals this week; shrug it off and remember who is still running a lap ahead going into November. Tough, sure, but if the college boys are being told to show some maturity right now how can their fans act like spoiled kids after a single setback? Or two, or even three if that should about?
Because this Belief is not blind faith any more. Nor is the 2012 team a finished product as of today. They are pretty healthy fortunately, as we had a couple of o-line scares to the right tackles that Mullen didn't think worth mentioning today. Nor is Banks banged-up as some suspect; check the message boards for Mullen's explanation of those two embarrassing touchdowns.
If Belief is maintained, albeit I would understand also muted for the moment, then we can keep the home-field atmosphere where it needs be for a really, really meaningful matchup. Meanwhile the Bulldogs, coaches and club, believe they'd best get to work addressing issues and continuing improvements. The same schedule that gave State the (taken advantage of) shot at starting 7-0 does become far more challenging in the third month. But you knew that already.
Just as the Dogs now need no longer listen to national championship musings, Mullen said today, reminding how winning the SEC West is just about the same thing these days. "I think we're still growing towards that. We'll see, there's still a lot of football to be played for our guys this season. We'll learn from this game. If they don't learn, then we're not going to take the next step."