Ross, Bulldogs Narrow Focus to Next Game Only

Cheers are nice, but players learn to tune those out when necessary. Same with critiques. Bulldogs know now only to listen to themselves. “Definitely,” Fred Ross agreed. “There’s a lot of talk going on on the outside.

“I think just as a team we’re coming together more. Because at the end of the day we’re out there putting in the work together. We’re all we’ve got. That’s just bringing us closer together as a team.”

Comparing their last two contests, Mississippi State certainly got a lot closer to success at Brigham Young. After a home rout by Auburn, the Bulldogs went to double-overtime in the non-conference road game. And had Ross himself come down with a perfect Nick Fitzgerald pass in the end zone they could, as the saying goes, still be playing.

Or had the Bulldog defense cashed-in on either of the pick-six opportunities. Or a field goal go good. Or a stripped ball not bounced into a blocked Cougar’s paws for a freak gain in the first OT. Or A.J. Jefferson not gotten his feet tangled chasing a last-regulation-play sack and fumble with the end zone beckoning. Or, or, or…

Plays like those show how close Mississippi State was to evening the record and staying on a bowl eligibility track. They also leave the Bulldogs (2-4, 1-2 SEC) frustrated about lost opportunities, and increase the ‘outside’ volume.

That’s why co-captain Ross is emphasizing “just us” all week as State prepares for their Kentucky trip. Oh, and don’t ask about long-term goals now. “When we hang out off the field, the main thing is just winning games. I mean we know we can’t get to a national championship but that’s not what really matters.

“The only thing that matters is we come out every Saturday and we just play to the best of our ability, we play as hard as we can.”

There’s no reason for less than all-out effort this Saturday evening (6:30ct, SECN). Along with the encouraging examples that Friday game produced a small bonus. State took the mandatory NCAA off-day Saturday, then Coach Dan Mullen cut them loose Sunday too.

“It felt good,” Ross said. “I’m glad we got some rest and kind of got our minds refocused. It was good having those couple of days off.” It also allowed a little extra scouting time. Then again, veterans like Ross have seen Wildcat defenses before as the annual inter-Division matchup.

Ross’ review? “Same thing. They’re the same team. They’re going to play hard, a one-high team and they’ve got some big corners, 6-3, 6-4, something like that. So we’ve got to work our craft.”

Speaking of craft, Ross has polished his to the point of becoming Mississippi State’s all-time receiver. He has 161 catches in four seasons, and the next grab ties David Smith (1968-70) for the record. Ross is fifth in career yards at 1,997 and that record (2,270) is within reach as well.

At Provo, he and Fitzgerald hooked up for five balls including two remarkable pass plays under pressure. Though the quarterback was only 17-of-36 for 214 yards, stats don’t tell the whole story.

“Nick really made a lot of good throws the whole game,” Ross said. “I know he hit me on a couple of speed-posts at the beginning of the game, threw a great corner route to me. Even the throw at the end of the game. He made a lot of great throws.”

Ahhhh, yes, that throw at the end. It was as perfect a strike from the 25-yard line and into the end zone, left side, as can be placed. And right into Ross’ hands, too. How the ball bounced back into his facemask and fell incomplete, has haunted Ross since.

“Ahhhh. I don’t know, man. Honestly after it happened it was almost like a fairy tale moment, I couldn’t even believe it happened. But I can’t be relaxed like that. It’s really nothing else to say about it but I dropped the ball. It was a great throw.”

Meaning, as long as Fitzgerald can throw it that well and with more consistency, it is up to Ross and the receiver corps to convert them into yards, first downs, touchdowns. This in-turn could free a little more room for an erratic ground game to finds its own footing, and even take some pressure off a struggling offensive line. It all goes together.

Just as, Ross said, the whole Bulldog team is trying to come together at mid-season and get back to winning the next weekend. Not the month, or the season, or whatever. Just this upcoming game is all that can matter now.

“The outcome, if we play hard, then we have a chance to win every game we play.”

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