Our Bulldogs could have hung it up after losing five straight games but instead buckled down and did what it took to win a game. Now I realize a three-point victory over the Kentucky Wildcats is not something to write home to mother about but this team needed a victory, any kind of victory to help get their confidence back.
They had a great week of practice prior to the Kentucky game and now realize that working very, very hard in practice and also enjoying themselves while doing so, does have its rewards. During the post-game press conference backup quarterback Kevin Fant made note of their practices during the week and said that their hard work of practice was rewarded with the win.
Going back to my comment about our defense, give an A+ to Josh Morgan, Korey Banks and T. J. Mawhinny for being playmakers. Coach Sherrill has continued to say that what MSU has been lacking during the losing streak were playmakers. These three guys did their part this past Saturday. During one play in the game, Josh somehow wound up having to cover two receivers and saved a possible touchdown by making the receiver miss the ball. Also, hats off to Korey Banks. Korey gets beat on occasion but then so did former MSU All-American cornerback Fred Smoot, but I don't know if I have seen many cornerbacks who can give a hit as hard as Korey does. Korey recorded a team-leading eight tackles during the Kentucky game. I guarantee that there are a few Wildcats that will not forget the little guy who wears number 2. Congrats to linebacker T. J. Mawhinny for recording his first interception of the season. T. J. was injured for several games and did not perform as well as he did during his first couple of games. However, he now appears to be completely back and has now recorded 17 tackles during the past two games.
Switching gears to the offense. It was nice to finally see the heart and soul of the offense, Dicenzo Miller, back out on the field. No one plays as hard and wants to win as badly as Dicenzo does. You can tell that by just watching the effort he puts forth in each and every play. Watching him fight for every yard that he can get is an inspiration in itself. Plus, with him out there, you could see a new energy in the offense.
But Dicenzo wasn't the only player on offense who really had a good day. The much maligned wide receivers finally played like we had hoped they would all season. After dropping numerous passes this season, they finally caught the ball and made plays. Justin Jenkins scored three times during the game - two were called back due to a penalty and stepping out of bounds - and finally played up to his ability. The catch in the south end zone was a thing of beauty. He had a defensive back all over him but out jumped him and kept his concentration and his hands on the ball when it appeared the ball might come out of his hands.
Backup quarterback Kevin Fant (6-of-10, 120 yards, 1 TD) also looked like the quarterback that I saw three years ago against South Panola HS in Batesville when his Moss Point team went up against South Panola in front of 10,000 screaming SPHS fans. Kevin, on a knee that would cause him to miss three games after the South Panola game, led his team to a win after they had fallen behind by 27 points. That night I fully understood why so many folks thought so highly of Kevin. The young man exhibited tremendous poise, composure and leadership that night under extreme conditions. I have no doubt that he can do that same thing at Mississippi State.
Going back to the Kentucky game, Kevin, after the MSU offense could do nothing in the first half, led MSU to three scores (2 TDS, 1 FG) during the six possessions that he ran in the second half. What was very impressive about the three scoring drives was the fact that they were drives of 80, 75 and 80 yards. As for the other non-scoring drives, you can discount one of them since it was at the end of the game. Kevin was without questions the spark that this MSU offense has so badly needed.
I know coach Sherrill doesn't want a quarterback controversy - he basically said that during the post-game press conference - and has great respect for Wayne Madkin and the many positive things that he has done for the MSU football program, but Kevin made it known with his play Saturday that he can lead this team. There is no getting around it that there will be much debate among the MSU alumni about who should get most of the play during the remaining games. When I asked Coach Sherrill during last Tuesday's press conference if he ever played younger players to get them ready for the next season, he said, "I play players to win games." All I can say is I'm glad that I'm not Coach Sherrill.
By the way, congrats go out to the MSU alumni for showing up for Saturday's game. There were 41,433 folks at the game. However, I have one question to ask, where were the students? After paying somewhere in the 20 to 25 dollar range for their season tickets the student section was about 55 to 60% percent full. Shame, shame, shame. You guys can do better than that. You were there when the expectation were so high and in the past when our team was winning. Now, support the team when they need you the most. Before the students who were there email me, I applaud you for being at the game. Your support is truly appreciated. Now, work on your fellow students and help get them back to the games.
Enough talk about the game. I'm not sure how serious about MSU they are but a Citrus Bowl rep was at the game Saturday night. A winter trip to Orlando, Florida wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it? Maybe the Bulldogs can pull off victories in the next four games to become bowl eligible. However, if the ever-improving Arkansas team continues to play like they have the past few weeks, that may just be a dream since they would be the 8th SEC team that would very likely be rated higher than MSU come bowl selection time. Florida and Tennessee, if they continue their winning ways, both have a shot at the BCS bowls. That would leave seven SEC teams, Georgia, Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU, South Carolina, Arkansas and MSU, if they continue winning, available for the six SEC non-BCS affiliated bowls to choose from. However, for MSU to have a real shot at one of the bowls, it is very likely that one of the first six teams that I mentioned would have to start losing. By the way, the six bowls that are aligned with the SEC are the Mainstay Independence Bowl, Music City Bowl, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, SBC Cotton Bowl, Outback Bowl and Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl.
Are they for real?....
The men's basketball team played their first exhibition Saturday night after playing two scrimmages. Coach Stansbury has said numerous times during the pre-season that his team has a high skill level. The team backed up his words by exhibiting that skill level during the game. Have you ever seen such great team passing as you saw Saturday night? The behind the back pass by Michael Ignerski that allowed an easy layup was a thing of beauty. I had seen the previous two scrimmages but had not seen Ignerski pass that well. The 6-foot-9 Ignerski also led the team in scoring with 16 points and co-led the team with 8 rebounds. Six of his points came from the three-point range (2-of-4).
Ignerski wasn't the only player to play well. True sophomore Mario Austin continues to let it be known that he has a chance to be an offensive force in the SEC after scoring 14 points while showing great quickness under the basket. Junior point guard Derrick Zimmerman also looked good making all six of his shots to ring up a total of 14 points. He dished out 7 assists and committed 5 turnovers. True 7-foot freshman Marcus Campbell made 6 of his 7 shots to score 12 points in just 10 minutes of play. Coach Stansbury mentioned that there is no question that Campbell can score. All he needs to learn to do is play defense and rebound. Another true freshman, Winsome Frazier also played well, scoring 11 points and pulling down 6 rebounds in just 17 minutes of play.
Back to the question, are they for real? No one in the media thinks that they are because I've purchased four pre-season college basketball magazines. Hey, I know its probably a waste of my money but they are still fun to read. Three of them picked MSU to finish 5th in the West while the other one picks the Bulldogs 6th. If the Bulldogs can improve defensively and shoot like they have the three times that I have seen them play, then they definitely have a good chance to finish higher than where the pre-season magazines picked them.
Another thing about this team is that most of its best players are freshmen or sophomores. With the likes of sophomores Mario Austin and Timmy Bowers and true freshmen Campbell and Frazier, the future definitely looks bright for the Bulldogs.
The one thing that really concerns me about this team is how they will handle their first eight SEC games. They play at home against Kentucky, then go on the road to Arkansas and Mississippi, then come back home to play Tennessee, then back on the road to Alabama, then back home against LSU, then play at Auburn and Florida. Whoever set up the SEC schedule is no friend of the Bulldogs. If the Bulldogs can come out of that grueling early schedule with 3 or 4 victories that will have to be considered a major success for this young team.
MSU football wins the SEC West.....
Ok, so it's not THE football team. In most parts of the world soccer is called football. Against Mississippi in Oxford, the MSU women's soccer team won a dramatic overtime match to win the SEC West. That is the first time that the soccer team has won the West championship. They will now head to LSU for their first ever appearance in the SEC Tournament. Congrats go out to Neil McGuire and his players for a job well done.
Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday morning Bulldog Coffee Break.
Have a great Bulldog week.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.