From The Dawghouse

The sun shines. The coffeemaker worked. The aspirin are finally beginning to work. Yep. Check off another Egg Bowl and for that matter another regular season. Except of course, 2014 was so, so wonderfully far from just another Mississippi State season. And it ain’t over yet.

Whoa, does this sound unconscionably cheerful for a beaten Bulldog on a Sunday-after? That’s not the intent. More, an attempt to look with bloodshot eyes at the bigger picture, without blinking or gobbling more analgesics.

Never to be forgotten is this. For 13-and-a-half weeks Mississippi State was on top of the football world, literally for five of those weeks even if skeptics kept waiting for a stumble. It came, yet the Dogs haven’t fallen terribly far at #10 in both polls. Which is important for bowling status to be discussed in a bit, not to mention the pride points that come with a top-ten ranking period, something no State team has ever finished a season with.

And, with a ten-win regular season. Maybe some of y’all have gotten a little lax on that item, so let me repeat with emphasis. Mississippi State won ten football games in a regular season. Again, ten wins before going bowling, and I’m not sure that’s been done by either of the state’s SEC programs before for that matter. Research is required.

So is perspective, however painful in the immediate aftermath of a loss that ought not have been. Yeah, I mean it. While hewing to an oft-stated theme that very few SEC games are ‘should wins’ any season, this one edges really close to that status. Making it the first game of Dan Mullen’s MSU tenure his team ‘should’ have won and did not. It’s a close call I admit, and emotions might have the upper hand right now; with time and more aspirin the opinion could adapt accordingly.

Because for all their second-half season stumbles the Rebels were obviously good enough to win on the home field and I can’t stress that last part enough. Home field wasn’t 100% decisive this SEC West season but it was a heckuva 2014 factor for certain teams. Certainly for State their expanded and splendid DWS brought fresh advantages for today and for the future and while no one can promise these Dogs would have beaten these Rebels on Scott Field…it would seem a much safer bet. Ditto Alabama for that matter. Oh, and as I said on our counterpart’s web site Friday (we’re friends so let it go), put either MSU or Ole Miss in this year’s East and they are champs.

Again this doesn’t ease much Sunday pain. Nor should it. All week I couldn’t help pondering the abject irony how the ancient scenario for State fans (and most college fans for that matter) almost came to pass: would you take a title season with the one loss to the rival, or prefer another losing year with a win over said rival? We darned nearly had it, didn’t we? And still there are mixed-minds out there on the subject.

Of course the obvious answer is neither, we want it all. The Dogs definitely did and today they hurt in ways we can’t. Or shouldn’t, if we’re adults about it. But they also have reason for pure pride in what 2014 has already brought and what remains to be done and won.

Honor requires recognizing what the home team did here. Rivalry aside we simply can’t ignore how hair-on-fire the Rebels played despite previous setbacks and through injuries. This is not to say one team ‘wanted’ it more, exactly. The Bulldogs wanted to win same as any other game. Maybe for a change they treated an Egg Bowl a little more like any other game, though only they really know. I don’t really believe it was a matter of schemes and sets either; we knew this wasn’t a great matchup for State’s offense already.

What we didn’t know was how thoroughly Bulldog blocking would get whipped. I mean whipped, and much as I like all those guys that was just plain humiliating. Talk of technique and execution won’t fly far this week, and while it’s too early to look ahead to 2015…yeah, this is where the next season’s results will be determined.

The defense, now, they were targeted first. “Obviously if you’re going to play that way there’s plenty of blame to go around,” Mullen said, focusing on allowing over 500 yards in just sixty or so snaps. Actually on just 20 or so snaps as it turned out. It was like watching a control pitcher get three, four ground balls in a row before being taken-yard; and doing it inning after inning after…

“That’s absolutely pathetic, that’s a terrible job by our defensive coaching staff.” Lest any think one side of the staff was lying under the proverbial bus, he went on. “Not a great job on offense, we’ve got to find a way to punch the ball in at the end with those last couple of possessions. We had opportunities to come back and win it, we didn’t make the plays. A lot of that is on me making sure I’m putting guys in the right situation to go make plays.”

Even with all that, even with a somewhat cool-looking Dog team playing rabid Rebels, I’ll always think had Benardrick McKinney’s vertical jump been two inches higher, then had the defense made one simple tackle on a re-routed run, State wins. If I am harsh on blocking, the tackling or lack thereof gets equal treatment. Again it wasn’t scheme or sets or even personnel, just wrap-and-drop guys and it’s game-over. The Dogs got away with iffy tackling right up to the bitter ending of an otherwise-sweet regular schedule.

Let me add this, as written a week ago. The ‘revenge’ factor carries lots less weight to my eye these days than years past. Not saying it doesn’t exist at some level, only how with players it surfaces afterwards and doesn’t linger as long. Did y’all notice during one of the early injury breaks how Will Redmond went by the other huddle to chat with fellow Memphian Jaylen Walton? Or how later when State was lining up for a PAT a Rebel I couldn’t ID came over to Dak Prescott, crouched to receive the snap when play resumed, and gave him what looked like a hi-guy tap to the helmet? Fraternization with the foe is real between competitors and fun to see, if you think about it.

It’s we outside the sidelines who take this stuff so to heart. And gut. It is well and good to do so, too, because otherwise it’s just another game in a season full of such. Or more bluntly, if losing didn’t hurt then winning would not matter. Just don’t let it linger too long, say past next Saturday.

Speaking of ‘lingering’… Mullen’s strong statements along with season-long rumors make it reasonably certain defensive staff changes are in store. Some voluntary, word is; some suggested. ‘druther not offer names right now as it’s best to let the dust settle for a few days. Plus this is the week most programs start making internal moves and word begins getting around who may be on the market by choice or by necessity. This December-January may see more shuffles than ever around the whole SEC, not just State by any means. It’s to be expected. The pressure to produce is greater than ever for everyone.

So are the rewards, which brings us to possible Dog destinations for New Years.

Last night I noted that the Orange Bowl reps stayed on State’s sideline all through the fourth quarter, right to the end. They looked no happier than the Dogs, as I strongly suspect they’d previously calculated an 11-1 State would still not make the Playoffs and fall into their bowl against the ACC runner-up.

Do they want the SEC West runner-up who lost the last game and might not have an enthusiastic crowd now? Or might the Miami officials lobby for, oh say a midwest school with fans eager to escape to sunny South Florida for a few days in larger numbers? These bowls are more-or-less assigned, sure, but in this first CFP season who knows what counts most? And the Orange Bowl certainly needs sales as the event has been overshadowed for years now.

So, looking at other options for a ten-win team. While I’ve no love of Atlanta itself our fans have enjoyed Peach (good to have the old name back) Bowls. I’d just be a bit sour about arriving in late December, not the first weekend of the month. Nah, not gonna make any cheap quips about the coach’s getting-to-Atlanta annual ambition, its too soon. Plus the Peach, fine as it is and with legit CFP stature now, doesn’t have the historic aura of the Orange. Or more to the point, Cotton.

Yeah, about Dallas. I’ve heard from lots of folk who want to watch their team in JerryWorld, not to mention use remaining holidays credit card space shopping the town. Players hear what sort of bowl-gift bounty the Cotton provides, and while I’m told they’ve toned it down a bit in recent years the reputation with media is unshakable…though I’m still the sober Baptist boy. Either way you fans could let it rip with N.Y.E. celebrating and not fear any 10:00am N.Y.D. kickoff like in ’98. If you weren’t there, that was one numbed crowd, lemme tell you.

Me? Even if it’s about 1,600 miles away, the Fiesta Bowl has its attractions…like a sure detour to the Ruger factory in Prescott. Speaking of distance, according to my phone-map Orange Bowl Way in Miami is actually a few fewer driving miles than Omaha! But as of today, the best guess based on a #10 ranking is Dallas or Atlanta.

Either direction we’d go on I-20, exactly how motivated are MSU fans after a rivalry letdown? Ahhhh, this is where the sly wisdom of pre-order sales is proven. State hasn’t provided numbers but word on deadline day a week ago was allotments for the various possible bowl-berths were accounted for. I’ll check further Monday.

What I’m saying is high-profile possibilities abound for the Bulldogs and for us. Even if somehow skipped by the CFP assignments, the defaults are fine too. Know what bowl has tracked State longest and most this season? The Citrus. Imagine that, going to Orlando and NOT having to visit RatWorld! And worst comes to worst, with ‘worst’ being really relative now, there is an ancient State debt that the Outback boys could make good on at last.

So troops, there is every reason to tune-in Tuesday for the last round of speculative standings. Staying in the top-twelve is the key, though top-ten is better. And should Georgia Tech finally put a dent in Florida State, or Alabama fall to Missouri, (Wisconsin should handle Ohio State) egad what chaos there will be in bowl boardrooms from sea-to-sea. Which is another reason for absurd speculation of just what will the CFP committee do AFTER selecting the four semifinalists.

See there, I just gave grieving Bulldog fans more reason to hang with the 2014 season in general and this team in particular. Certainly we can expect good news Tuesday evening from Jackson, as if Dak Prescott does not win the state’s top collegian award then the selection loses all validity. The Heisman invitees are announced December 8, I’m told, and Dak surely should be getting his trip to New York City.

He’d just rather have brought the Golden Egg back to Starkville first. As would Mullen, who may have dialed-back some of the build-up since last year’s epic (and candidly, I realized last night on the drive back that forced to choose, I would have let ’13 and ’14 meetings end up as they did) but will always use the rivalry as one—repeat, one—part of his program-building process. Losing it this year doesn’t cripple the club fortunately, much less Bulldog football.

It just, well, hurts. “Heartbreaking,” as Prescott put it. But there is a cure for broken hearts over football, at least. Returning and incoming Bulldogs know what it is, too. That countdown clock just started over, you know.

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