Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

A Little Respiration Can Clarify Bulldog Aspirations

He was referring to haltime talk. Today though Dan Mullen’s advice to the squad could equally apply to everyone outside Mississippi State’s locker room. Breathe in. Breathe out.

And relax.

I don’t pretend the last bit is easy, nor should it be. Soooo much was invested in the 2015 conference opener by players, program, school, fans alike that not winning is an early-season punch to the paunch. So by no means is this meant to tell anyone to shrug off defeat automatically. That’s the old Mississippi State.

I do advise, handle it calmly as possible. Breathe in. Breathe out.

And review.

We won’t grind through recapping the 21-19 melodrama on Scott Field. It was pretty plain. A LSU team used its strengths early and often to build a lead, then hung on for a far more frantic finish than anyone would have imagined after three periods. The Tigers are good. How good, who knows?

The same applies to this whole Western Division where everyone is good, some pretty good, but nobody great yet. If ever. That’s why losing in September stings but isn’t fatal. It’s possible but unlikely anyone gets through this Division unscathed. So the Bulldogs aren’t done.

They are behind the proverbial eight-ball already. And if by some circuitous cycle the State schools of Mississippi and Louisiana end up even in the record come December, MSU memories will burn with sight of a needlessly-long field goal going to the right. Or of realizing the third down play clock was about to expire before a snap. Or of a just-barely-hurried throw for the tying two points.

That’s natural, end-of-game events always stand out most. Me? I left the stadium (after 2:00am by the way) no longer musing about what might have been had State transitioned one or two series sooner to shorter, sharper passing once everyone recognized A) the Bulldogs couldn’t block for real vertical pass plays and B) or block for a real running game either.

This loss is not laid at the door of the offensive line meeting room by the way. When emotion fades, sense should set in. Don’t criticize athletes when they are simply beaten by betters. That’s why games are played after all. LSU was maybe a worst-case matchup with their defensive line strengths at both ends and nothing but thoroughbred-style handicapping was going to change that.

That or better recruiting of linemen which is an over-time solution obviously. No, I don’t know what the deal is with Martinas Rankin. It will surely come up this week. And as I didn’t switch this off until around 5:00 this morning, the mind is too foggy to recall the name of that decade-or-so ago tight end turned tackle who was successful. So don’t write this one off just yet either. Though, it also reverts to the original query of how at this stage of any winning program State should be forced to convert kids at all, instead of recruiting to positions?

(Edited to add: enough caffeine and I remembered Michael Gates (2005-08) who went from redshirt tight end to tackle and made a good career of it. And Steve Robertson reminds that Addison Lawrence was an all-state academy tight end signed by one staff and developed into a first-class tackle by the current staff. So yes, it can and does work.)

The other fact remains LSU was again something of an exception. I haven’t seen all SEC teams yet, thanks to two ludicrous late starts. But I’m confident there isn’t more than one, maybe two teams left which could line-up and whip Bulldog blocking. And by then the offensive staff will have adapted to reality.

In fact they already have, on the fly.

To me the epitome play of the night was that second quarter 2nd-and-8 when Dak Prescott got a rare called keeper. A play that worked so well last year wasn’t there. Dak got the snap, took a hard fast step ahead to his left, and slammed right into an over-powered teammate’s back. So to those tweeting and texting and posting during the game bewildered why Dak wasn’t running more, my answer was…run where?

That certainly mooted all of last week’s debating whether after limited running at Hattiesburg the leash would be loosened against LSU. Yet again, upcoming opponents ought offer many more room for Mississippi State’s best ball player to do damage on his own. Which in-turn will present better opportunities for teammates to use their own skills. That’s good for at least one sigh of relief, right?

Another can be drawn based on how State really did adjust, never mind the respiration suggestion. Vertical game unavailable? Ground game largely shut down? Then get the ball out of Dak’s hand in two or three ticks instead of four or five to guys slanting and slashing and stopping in front of an admittedly-softening coverage. Experts might have seen something else, but it surely seemed LSU was so intent on not giving up a big break they allowed a lot more underneath.

Which is why State had only one play I can recall right now go over 20 yards. Or maybe they didn’t entirely trust the secondary in the first place? Only they know.

Either way we got to see what Prescott and his targets—all of them, by the way—can do in both a quick tempo attack and under clock pressure. It was good. Better should be available as such plays are as much long handoffs as they are short passes. And not a lot of remaining opponents have LSU’s sort of athletes coming up for one-man tackles of Wilson, Ross, Walley,

In the backfield we have to like what Shumpert and Holloway offer, absolutely. Better is having one back with enough of their combined qualities. Not that State has a Fournette, because nobody but LSU does. But, after two games one wonders how soon Dontavian Lee can get some serious snaps? This Saturday afternoon seems a prime time for him, for Malik Dear, for Aeris Williams too. The point being that if emphasis must shift to tempo and quicker shots, time-taking power runs aren’t as practical. Situational, yes. But not the priority like last year or last week.

One might justifiably ask, why not more work for those Dogs by now? That’s simple. Mississippi State has spent eight months building up to last night. In getting the regulars ready for the SEC opener. It would have been dereliction of duty to approach the assigned schedule any other way.

Now. With LSU out of the way, and a clear if not entirely comfortable look at what Mullen really has to work with in the varsity, stage-two kicks in. Exaggeration? Well, just speaking for one Dog, there was an inescapable impression last night that a long, long pre-season was finally finished. The rest of and real schedule begins today. Literally, as Mullen had already booked a Sunday practice regardless of result. There’s a lot to look at.

A lot to learn. A lot to apply moving forward. And this club will move forward, though with an edge of anxiety after stumbling out of the gate. Sorta like taking second-turn in overtime I guess, in that the Dogs know now what they have to do. With presumably a better idea how to do it, too.

So. If not a satisfied sigh, a big sigh of some relief is a fine Sunday suggestion. Not fun. Again, MSU football is beyond that stage. But there is something to be said for recognizing reality, and seeing plenty of remaining potential.

Speaking of State’s present stage… I’d be horribly remiss not to mention the very best part of Saturday. You fans. When LSU went up 21-6, well, let’s be candid, in years past the exodus would have begun. Especially among the younger fans there for the socializing & scandalizing of college life. But reaching field-side in the fourth quarter there weren’t all that many vacated seats to be seen. And it was still louuuuuud.

I know, every program worth watching talks about home atmosphere. Mississippi State has it. Loud and proud. Though we’ll also be watching for just how proud everyone is based on turnout for a lower-level guest. That’s a truer test of commitment these big-screen, home cave days.

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