My larger point being, here in the aftermath of lopsided losses that blemished Mississippi State's record—and frankly have put a portion of our more passionate fans on Sunday suicide watch—the "Believe" campaign is receiving sour responses today.
Just not, believe it or not, from me.
That'll surprise some, not least a few State staffers familiar with caustic comments from this quarter. Fact is I have no mock to make of Believe today, nor tomorrow nor ever regardless how the 2012 season plays out. Partly, because of its grass-roots origin; a simple statement of fan faith back when the Bulldogs were undefeated, which MSU naturally and correctly seized and officially amplified.
We can debate, even disagree, whether things really make that much difference in how a fan base sees and supports its teams. I tend to the ‘superficial' viewpoint, that slogans and such haven't yet tallied a touchdown or tackle…but that doesn't make them meaningless. Or useless. No not even when the season takes a turn sending some formerly true-Believers in a more agnostic direction.
I suppose we could apply some Scripture here comparing the now-non-Believers following two tough weeks with the seed-and-soil parable, but naaah. Suffering consecutive losses, and looking a little lost in the process, would test any football faith. And by the way, let's send a great big so-what? to those of us fretting how rivals and opponents have their fun with said faith.
I suppose what I'm trying to say here is, what's wrong with a little Bulldog Belief? Just because you and/or I may take a more cautious approach to State games doesn't make us any clever. Or less loyal for that matter. Years ago, before I wised-up, I'd notice other on-line outlets consistently refer to fans who supported a team, coach, State itself through tough times as ‘sheep'. As if being sarcastic, even outright scornful made one smarter or sharper or something. That's no more accurate than the inverse, that doubting Bulldog direction makes one a heretic as goodness knows I've been called over the years.
So to those who still do or want to Believe in the 2012 team, don't stop on my or any other account. Enjoy it. For those of broken faith, or others who never bought into the team in the first place, show a little dignity and don't berate Belief. Lot of ball left this fall and a bowl trip beyond that. Or as I responded yesterday to a post-game poster asking how I could keep on with the job after the setbacks, it's easy. Not just because my skin is ever so much thicker what with all the scarring from past seasons. But because there are only so many college football games we get to witness in-person in any career, and I'm well past half-done with my schedule. Check your own from that perspective and decide if the risk of watching a loss out-weighs the simple pleasure of participating in Bulldog football. I Believe you'll stay with it.
Meanwhile. What to think of the team today? I probably did a poor job last week in stories and posts disguising expectations that I did not like the matchup with a fast-developing (and for that matter just plain fast) Aggie team. If I'd known in advance how poorly, make that personally A&M would take Mississippi State's Snow Bowl commemoration—"It's not a proud moment for us," an Aggie official told me pregame—my forecast would have been even gloomier. A foot of slush on the turf would have been helpful, too, as A&M was playing at a cartoon-like pace on both sides of the ball.
Whereas the Bulldogs were practically frozen in place. Most noticeably on defense, and Dan Mullen had something to say on that score today. "You've got to run through tackles if you're going to make them, and we were doing a little too much pulling-up early." I can only guess from fear of getting burned, which Dog defenders were anyway. It wasn't even that the Ags were more agile, though they were; best I can put it, they were decisive. Every move was made immediately, right or wrong and instant action more often made it right even if wrong.
And even given good shots, the Dogs either missed or never took them. "Not one individual player, but we had a lot of missed tackles on a lot of players," Mullen said. "It was a lot of things. We were out of fits, we were miss-aligned at times, we had some poor calls. We have to make sure we have the right people in the right defense and execute in the right way to make the plays."
Hmmm, one wonders what the ‘right' people and defense are? I'll agree with Cameron Lawrence that State had to commit to either cover or attack because they couldn't attempt both. What frustrated was how hesitant everyone was in either aspect. That's not a set, that's a mindset. Something Mullen seems to recognize and intend to adjust this week.
As for offense, yesyesyes I saw your in-game posts, some even from a stadium seat; demanding a different quarterback, running back, play-caller, and for all I know different hot dog supplier. Ooops, didn't mean to open that can o' pork product. I'll kindly limit comment on those pleas to reminding there is rarely one magic personnel move to make everything better on offense, and back out of the line of fan-fire. Tyler Russell is en route to rewriting the record books here after all.
And the quarterback himself talked of half-time adjusting both what passes and where thrown, with encouraging results. Setting aside the too-late angle, what worked against A&M coverage isn't certain of success against LSU. Though it does seem safe saying Russell will have to unload even earlier this weekend, that or leave Tigah Stadium in a body cast. We need him healthy for the other two games where, yes I know I'm looking ahead but I can't help it, Russell ought to have field days throwing deep.
Besides, Mullen was not questioning gameplans today, at least not to us writers. He used that E-word fans so loathe but players affirm weekly. "We didn't execute very well at all on that side of the ball," Mullen said of the slow start. "We had a lot of mistakes, especially early in the game. We cleaned some of that up later in the game." Just not in time to make up for what Mullen saw as the critical missed chances. By Mullen's math the game was lost in the Aggie red zone, twice.
Had the Dogs cashed in such opportunities? "Now it's 31-28 and that's just taking the red zone scoring into effect. But offensively there's a lot of things we have to clean up and continue to execute on." Translated: don't look for sweeping changes in plans or personnel here in month-three of the schedule. That includes an offensive line that has had its issues in the consecutive setbacks.
"We don't get panicked about all this stuff," Mullen said today. "We just have to continue to improve and coach them and get them ready to play." Though, the coach added, it ought not be up to the coaches to get the Bulldogs emotionally prepared for this weekend. No, not even after what we witnessed yesterday from a club I thought more confused than lifeless as has been suggested.
"I mean, that's what you come here to play in these games," Mullen said. "Two 7-2 teams going to play a mid-November game in Baton Rouge at night, that makes it a pretty big game. If you can't get up for it, you have a lot of problems. You must not love football."
Related to above comments this applies to us as well. If we have a low lifetime limit on total games, opportunities for most State fans to experience dusk at Tiger Stadium are common as unicorns. And if you don't get a tingle in the spine when the home band hits those first four notes in pregame, then turn in your Football Fan card at the gate. I won't comment on what to do if watching the Golden Girls strut doesn't impact the pulse…
Undoubtedly the Bulldogs are underdogs again. I doubt that worries them a lot this week, which is the advantage of youth. And of having something tangible to do, like laying-into each other at practices and getting yelled at by coaches. Us? We lay-into and yell at each other, which I reckon provides a valuable Psychological Service these days. What did fans do before message boards, after a loss, for immediatel relief when only one at a time could get through on local radio talk? Kick the dog? Crash the car? We've come far in that regard.
But I've no yelling to do, at least not until I get caught in traffic Saturday anyway. Otherwise, I'll go about my game-day business as usual, take a measure of how Mississippi State against the second-best collection of athletes in the SEC. Second only to the bunch they lost to last night of course, and at times it looked like 1 and 1A as we originally expected.
Still State remains on the overall track to a nice bowl and better 2012 record, which is the sort of progress that counts. At least that's my Belief.
And notice…I got through this entire monologue without a single comment on uniforms.