From The Dawghouse-Sept. 7, 2014

Had some reputable seer said in summer Mississippi State’s first two games would produce one blowout and one shootout, both Bulldog victories, I’d have agreed. Which has indeed been our early-season situation. Thing is, I also would have had the names attached to those victim descriptions reversed.

Not that it matters in the big Bulldog picture. If routing Southern Mississippi proved much easier and beating UAB a bit harder than expected of either, the end result is the same. Mississippi State has two Ws in the correct column and a healthy head of steam for the first road trip of 2014. That’s right, I said healthy and meant it.

What? No anguish, anger, or angst about being burned for 0.14 miles on just three completed passes? Or twice trailing a team which won only twice last season? Or placekicking so erratic it’s almost—almost--amusing? Nope. I haven’t gotten so spoiled by recent seasons to regard Dan Mullen’s cautionary comment that it really is hard to win any football as just coach-speak. He’s correct, and leaving the stadium at eight-ish last night this Dog could be reasonably content.

And, confident of the coming week as well as cautiously optimistic for the rest of the season. First, because while I haven’t extensively watched everyone, quick viewings of our 2014 SEC foes have yet to show any opponent Mississippi State can’t play with and potentially beat. Note, potentially, since the inverse is just as true for most of our conference kin with one clear exception. Either they graduated everyone who mattered, or made a catastrophically bad coach choice, or more likely both, but Vanderbilt has splatted spectacularly. I’ve no hesitation to claim UAB would thrash Vandy if meeting at the moment.

Related to this, let’s tip the cap to those Blazers. Truly I and most others had counted them dead-and-done given their permanent, inherent issues of location, facilities (lack thereof) and support (ditto). Now UAB is an example of what a competent coach with a vision, and given a free hand to apply it, can accomplish with a historically-struggling program.

Just like, you will likely have recognized by now, Mississippi State’s current coach has achieved so far. Not that Bulldog football labors under anything like UAB’s burdens to be sure. But it says so, so much about how Mullen and squad have raised the image and expectations alike to a point our fans grumble about a win where State scores points in bunches. Maybe it was heat ‘n humidity or something…and by the way, I suspect we felt mugglier than usual for September because summer was pretty darned mild for Mississippi. Conditioning, people!

Seriously though, I am not ignoring items of issue. Well, other than the placekicking which it seems we’ve seen one answer. Remember how this ‘seer’ said State’s offensive staff would find itself going for a lot of fourth downs rather than try a kick? Sure enough, yesterday in the second and third quarters, facing fourth downs on the Blazer 35 and 34 Mullen did go for it. And Dak Prescott delivered both times despite a defense which had to know what was coming, converting keepers to keep what became touchdown drives rolling.

Forget the caliber of competition, hanging 96 points on consecutive CUSA clubs affirms forecasts of what this offense can do. By the way, 96 is one point shy of what the ’44 team did in its first two games and they were playing, let’s see, the mighty Jackson Air Base eleven and Millsaps College. The record for first-two-games scoring will remain 131 points in consecutive routs of Marion Military and Cumberland College…in 1914. The first two games ever played on what became called Scott Field. 100 years ago, quite coincidentally.

Plus, we all recognize had Mullen kept the pedal floored in first quarters of both games they’d have been even greater runaways. You critics can argue the results of early-and-often alternating quarterbacks for disrupting most of each first half; but not the wisdom of trying to push Damian Williams’ development. He obviously needs it now as he hasn’t looked sophomore-sharp. And history reminds how a true #2 will be needed in a 12-game season. I still wonder if yesterday had turned into an early rout one of the true frosh would have been activated for a real #3? Or would we default to say Jameon Lewis in such a situation right now? Only the offensive staff knows.

Only the defensive staff knows what the boss had to say at that Sunday morning meeting Mullen mentioned yesterday. Fortunately those fellows have thick enough skins to take critique; past-proven records in putting players in best positions; and the personnel to do so. I’d rather look at UAB’s extraordinary production as, well, out of the 2014 ordinary. Nothing reinforces a technical lesson like watching one’s self getting beat deep for six points, or failing to get to the passer before release. And too, those plays did not lose State a game this time.

Sort of a best-case scenario for September teaching, reckon? Also, did anyone else find it interesting how in post-game Mullen actually spoke up for defensive backs playing aggressive rather than asking for caution in coverage? We can’t know what he’ll say to them in person today but publicly at least the coach stands by his DBs however smoky they smell for now. Goodness knows to play such positions those guys need short memories anyway.

The other point worth considering was another ‘smell’ to Saturday. The Dog defense was so vanilla one wonders if game-morning meeting was held at the campus dairy. Little to no safety support was seen, just man-on-man and go get ‘em kid. The result was, we must point out, under 50% passing for the Blazers. Didn’t catch that, didja? Because of course attention was on the completions. Sorta like a pitcher who tosses a complete-game win with nine, ten strikeouts but is tagged for a few longballs on big hacks. Hmm, probably oughtn’t mention home runs these days, my bad.

I’d like to think that to some extent the whole defense was given a game-two test, sorta similar to alternating quarterbacks and lines on offense, to gauge group development in advance of SEC season. I could be utterly wrong on that, too. Only the coaches know and they ain’t talking yet. Nor are we certain to know a lot more in this regard after next live test. OK, that sounds insulting to a South Alabama program that has made long strides in a short time. Anyone else watch them end last regular season by whomping league champs Lousiana-Lafayette?

So I’m heading to Mobile anticipating a competitive game. I’m also expecting a decisive Dog win. That the two are linked is further proof of program progress. The obvious questions are will State stick with alternating quarterbacks so soon, and the secondary’s alignment(s). Oh, and where to park around the city’s stadium, a venue I last visited in let’s see, yes, 1989. Took Dad with me to the all-star game to watch a bunch of Bulldog signees in action including several quarterbacks. That was back when Highway 98 was mostly two-lane and entirely dangerous, ranked by USA Today among the deadlier drives in the country. It’s infinitely easier nowadays. Duller, too.

This trip ought be more interesting for State and hopefully instructive as to how the Bulldogs will approach SEC season. These first two tests have been good home-field fun but now it’s time to hit the road and see what 2014 could hold in store. See y’all there.

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