Expected or un-, State didn't press its advantages sufficiently in the second and third periods to get this one under control. The end result was an ending which left some shaken and others shaking heads, a la last year's close call at Troy. Or the uncomfortably close escapes from Louisiana Tech in '11. Or, that near-stumble at home against UAB in '10.
What? You'd forgotten that one, when a nine-win squad only edged a lowly visitor by kicking five field goals? I thought so, along with some of the other examples. Just as I know that there's a portion, not a majority but a very vocal segment, within the fan base still either purple-faced furious or deep-blue depressed over beating a Bowling Green by a single point. If I may say so, such shades aren't very attractive.
Though maybe they are emblematic of what's happened in Bulldog Country. How so many have so soon lost any sense of big-picture perspective, that they'd scorn any outcome ending in a W. You do know, as I mentioned to an administrator with a few game-seconds left, they all look the same in terms of bowl eligibility?
Which turns to the wee-hours inspiration mentioned above. Departing via the back-staircase I heard the classic, KISStschy chorus of ‘Rock and Roll All Night'. Hooo boy, talk about a time-warping moment, it was pure flashback to the late ‘70s for Ye Aulde Editor when other bands were cranking out that same song.
And, back when Bulldog teams were losing to unimpressive at-the-time foes like Memphis and Southern Mississippi. Or pulling out nailbiters with North Texas State, twice; dodging upset by Kansas State back when they were the world's doormat. And never mind annual thumpings from most SEC peers and hoping just to split the Egg Bowl every other year or so. Or puking away a bowl trip in '78 (the rep was in the press box, bid in metaphorical hand) when Auburn kicked two field goals while State was shut out.
The bands played and parties continued unimpacted by final scores as I recall, but hearts were a bit higher after victories. No matter the names.
Sure, it was another era. If the music…nope, no ‘if' about it, the music was certainly better…then the football was often worse. I'm only talking about my own college years, which to most generations preceding me (yes kids, there are humanoids even older and aren't even fossilized yet!) felt like Good Old Days compared to their more painful eras.
My point is really not to join the ‘you don't know how good you got it' chorus. I do generally agree with the tune of course, having observed almost one-third of Mississippi State's entire football history (!). There've been way, way too many seasons where beating a Bowling Green, beating anyone was completely cheered. So yes, there's a definite degree of spoiled-ness showing from those acting as if a one-point win was a ‘moral defeat'. Maybe they'd bet the over or something? And so please spare me the ultimate in useless commentary, saying ‘demand better' or ‘expect excellence' so Bulldog football can blossom. As if attitudes alone magically healed hurting ankles and trimmed tenths off 40-times, advanced experience in blocking techniques and coverage schemes. Try demanding the sun shine longer in December and expecting the Federal deficit diminish, while you're at it.
Am I happy with a 21-10 win over a MAC team? Yes. I am. Because I've seen alternative outcomes and they ain't pretty. Just don't go equating ‘happy' with ‘satisfied', OK? And while in no way will I raise Bowling Green to the stature of, say, Kentucky, that team used some tactics that planned or not meshed with a some State weak points at the moment.
Re-read the Notebook filed around 2:30 Sunday morning for Tyler Russell's insight on how BG ‘reversed' defensively with blitzes on runner Dak Prescott and full coverages against his passing skills. Clever, eh? Not least given what they'd surely heard about injuries to Bulldog blockers. It doesn't excuse all faults to be sure but you know the sorta-healthy linemen were worn down by the fourth quarter. That is also why Dan Mullen hesitated coming back with the hurry-up play that worked well before halftime. Gotta think as the linemen recover, we'll see more tempo-attack in coming games. Just something to consider.
By the way, lemme interject here that I have no problem at all with State not announcing a starting quarterback on the gargantutron prior to games. I actually kinda enjoy this. No, Mullen isn't trying to trick the other team; opponents prepare for both Russell and Prescott equally already. I figure the head coach and offensive staff are allowing not just the whole practice week but pregame warmups to decide for them, without feeling obligated to name an ‘official' starter on the video board. And if any of my media peers are offended, well, think a moment. Mullen is doing us a professional favor! I mean, we now get to make a tweet and/or post about who was or was not named; then do it again when somebody takes the first snap; and THEN in post-game ask why or why not. Then there's the pre-game and game-week radio topic for at-length and ad nauseam debating. C'mon, the coach is giving us free copy guys, let's encourage he continue.
As for the defense, well, a holding call or two would have helped as State's ends were rassling away with blockers. Hopefully Preston Smith is back soon so Kaleb Eulls can return to tackle, it just ain't working at end this year either. But I was curious why other ends didn't get more turns there, or more rotation used at tackle. We don't get to talk to any coaches or players until Wednesday by the way, the first chance to enquire about who did and didn't get snaps and such. At the same time I wasn't a bit surprised with a conservative, nay outright cautious defensive plan for that game, that week, that point of a season with unit STILL adapting around injuries and lineup shuffles. If Geoff Collins can have the same 22 or so guys available two, three consecutive weeks, well then we might see what the real plan is.
Which actually is an apt comment on the entire club. Just what is this 2013 team? Half-season done and we still can't really say, not just from injuries alone but how they've forced further adjustments to schemes and systems that were already adapting after opening day's default. In a sense State has been scrambling ever since…and might I add that a fan base burned by previous regimes which rarely (to our unprofessional eyes) seemed to adjust to conditions ought allow at least some credit to this staff for flexibility.
Which means to me we've got a very unfinished product playing right now. And that if State is still settling the most promising approach to the rest of the schedule, what must the upcoming opponents wonder who will show up in those games? It can play out positively, it could fall apart, but it won't be at all dull. Plus it is still, I have a hunch, setting a larger stage for the next couple of seasons. But that's just one Dog's notion.
Meanwhile, now that we've had 36 or so hours to settle down, I will repeat the core concept. The Bulldogs won a football game and that is ultimately all that matters to them. We fans and media forget or ignore that those are college boys playing a game and have earned every right to enjoy walking off the field happy they scored more points than the other team. Regardless of how many more points there were. That the coaches aren't paid by the margin of victory, but for producing a victory.
I don't demand you be satisfied your team cut it so close for what that might portend against conference competition. But seriously, do be happy the short-handed Bulldogs won, and allow the participants to do what they do each new week win or lose. That is, shred the video for what went right, what went wrong, what has to be done better, what will be practiced this week, and project how many guys can get game-healthy in time for Kentucky. Related to this, media won't be talking with Mullen or players until Wednesday; and the head coach himself will turn the Thursday call-in show over to other sports as is the open-date drill.
Me, I might not even watch much football Saturday for a radical change. Where once open dates were useful for sorta ‘scouting' remaining SEC opponents, I'm noticing a trend. To wit, what a team does one week has less to do with their next game than ever before. Or in more blunt words, there just doesn't seem as much consistency in college football now, certainly not in season first-halves. Even the teams I think are really good don't look quite the same week to week whatever the matchups and styles and injuries. Maybe there's a column in this, that while we have better-than-ever athletes playing the games the participants themselves aren't as good a ‘football players' in the sense of fundamentally knowing the game. That's an absolute fact in basketball by the way, has been for a while and gets worse every winter. But it's an interesting development for football, possibly linked to the rise of spread offense variations and defenses built largely around sheer speed over on-field smarts?
Hmmm, that makes me sound ever-more like an old-timer or something. Age might not necessarily bring wisdom in my case, but it does provide perspective on the state of Mississippi State football to the point I enjoy any and every win. Your mileage may vary though. It's OK. Just do the Dogs the favor of letting them have the pleasure of playing their games and we'll settle accounts at season's end. Or post-season's end, if they can get healthy and establish a more efficient and consistent identity. We'll see.
In the meantime, enjoy the open date. Looks like a wet weekend ahead anyway, so I might not be able to drop the convertible top for a drive. But I'll assuredly have good old ‘70s road tunes playing…starting with say ‘Detroit Rock City'? I mean there's a reason frat-row parties today still play stuff first sung before any of the audience was born. Doubt the same will be true at Homecoming 2038 for anything new on today's airwaves.