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Three Weeks to Define a Bulldog Season

Everyone rested? And, in the case of us who made the Missouri trip, all dried-out? (My loafers are still soggy.) Good. Then let’s get started on this stretch run, with three weeks to define Mississippi State’s 2015 season at last.

I say ‘at last’ because since the campaign’s opening quarter we’re all wondered exactly who and what these Bulldogs are. Not merely month to month or week to week. I mean quarter by quarter, even series by series sometimes. There are plays Mississippi State performs, on both sides, in championship style.

There are others that…aren’t. Which is not to say the ’15 Bulldogs swing from one end of the perception spectrum entirely to the other. They always stop somewhere around OK enough. Simply, this is a very good team to any objective viewer, and an exceptional squad to any rational historian of Mississippi State football. I know, I know, we have our share of irrational ones making their opinions heard, too. All fair game.

What I mean is when this team plays at more or less best, they can play with anyone. When the Dogs are less than that best they will still beat most average and any poor team…and that is something which still isn’t appreciated enough around here. I’ve said it before and will repeat until no longer applicable, in now-seven seasons Dan Mullen’s teams have yet to take a ‘bad’ loss to any team his Dogs had no business losing to. Check the yearly records your own self.

That’s not the point for now though. We know this is a good team. Thursday night settled it. Missouri staked everything on that home game, and if the weather kept the crowd down it improved their physical and emotional advantages.

Bulldogs didn’t blink.

OK. At the time, and three days later, I still wonder why the first-quarter attempt to show…something, I guess, about the ground game. Maybe that State can still run the ball without relying on Dak Prescott to do all the dirty work. Not in that quarter or half, they couldn’t. By the last half when the home team Tigers were wearing down (a feat which merits more respect for MSU’s blocking than they’ve received), yeah, rushing produced.

I’m not investing much angst on that angle this week. It mightn’t matter whoever lines up alongside Prescott save for extra backfield blocking or hot-route options. It might not matter the next two weeks in fact. The fact which does matter is, Prescott IS the ground game and that’s just fine. He’s healthy this November compared to a year ago at this point, and in recent weeks Prescott has shown tendencies of not needing all those progressions before tucking and toting for good gains. What’s a confused defense to do now?

But, this is not 2014 Dak. This is a quarterback finding his well-rounded prime in all aspects. Yeah, all but a handful of y’all were watching from a distance and in dry comfort. We on the scene, well, raindrop-obscured press box windows couldn’t obscure just how complete a performance Prescott put on with his arm, his eyes, and increasing awareness of what works with this air attack.

In fact I think those second- and third-quarter connections with De’Runnya Wilson were as pretty a passel ‘o passes as I’ve seen in all my own tenure observing State quarterbacks. OK, insert your own jokes about not setting the bar too high there. It doesn’t change the 2015 truth. Dak Prescott is operating at a sustained level not seen in modern program history. However you define modern, since let’s wait until after the Egg Bowl before formally crowning Prescott as Jackie Parker’s superior. (Just in case, why not have a banner of some sort ready to unfurl on the honor ring at DWS…or is that tempting State fate?)

The obvious fact remains this is an offense just about entirely dependent on passing the ball. That State stepped onto a saturated artificial field and threw, and caught and ran-after-catches as if on a bone-dry Scott Field surface speaks volumes for how productive this offense has become. There are inevitable dry spells to be sure; these are SEC defenses on the other side with players who can run, hit, and sometimes in today’s game even tackle well. Prescott and his receivers aren’t perfect.

But they are outstanding and in stretches brilliant. Maybe my best comment on Dak’s delivery is he makes them look like long handoffs to Dogs who can beat people one-on-one before, during, and then after the catches. Keep this up and a normal ‘ground game’ becomes helpful but not always necessary.

Egad. Did I really just write that about Bulldog football?! Next thing, somebody will tell me State no longer uses a standard fullba…wait, what’s that you say?

A moment ago I mentioned tackling. That’s been as much a sore point at times as lack of a reliable run game or breakout back. This, after all we wrote in spring and pre-season about circuit practices of tackling techniques. Well, the results are starting to show in real games. Some point I might bloviate on how college football is becoming like the pro game where hitting replaces tackling due to all how much faster and stronger offensive guys are.

For now, just agree that the Dog defense is finding itself. Evidence? Has anyone noticed the defense now is in the national top-ten in preventing points? And by now everyone knows what has happened in fourth quarters, or rather not happened. As in State hasn’t given up a fourth period touchdown through nine games.

No, Missouri wasn’t a real offensive threat. But remember, the Tigers had that breakaway dash against the rotation defense and reached the two-yard line with first down. They went back’ards from there with penalties, sacks, and incompletions. When Kivon Coman knocked down the last Tiger pass p.r. director Bill Martin celebrated on the sideline. He doesn’t have to change that paragraph in his game notes for another week.

He does have to print most of the notes before Monday lunch though, so it won’t include the next round of College Football Playoff rankings. The regular polls both place Mississippi State at #20 today, which is right where they ranked in the initial CFP release. And don’t forget, Mississippi State has been in every CFP release since the 2014 debut which of course had those Bulldogs #1. All football historians, MSU or not, will forever have to repeat that.

Back to the present, losses by Memphis and Ole Miss opened room for State to climb at least a couple of slots. Houston managed not to blow their game and season, and losing to #1 didn’t drop Florida State quite far enough in polls. In CFP calculating, who knows?

What all know, is this week is different. I’d rather not remind but must, what Alabama has done to State just in this decade. Like ending unbeaten seasons in 2012 and ’14 most obviously, or knocking out quarterbacks on Scott Field, and so on.

The Crimson Tide is kryptonite to Dan Mullen’s teams, simply. No shame in that, I admit. Just frustration all around that Alabama has simply been better every time, and played much better most times. This is the one West member Mullen, and for that matter Prescott, have yet to defeat. After last week South Carolina is the only other SEC member Mullen’s MSU men haven’t beaten though with just two chances.

I’ve posted the SEC’s multiple-team tiebreakers repeatedly in recent weeks by request, and they’re pinned to the top today for y’all’s aid & entertainment. I’ll wait until about 5:30 Saturday before paying attention, if it’s still necessary by then.

And, let’s all wait until after the Egg Bowl before assigning our opinion of what the 2015 Bulldogs are. These next three Saturdays will settle that story.

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