FANTastic, JenkinsCONTACTS, and Dicenzo Miller!
Those are the three things that appeared to turn what looked to be a dismal football season into what now appears to be a football team on the rise.
After scoring 30 points in their first game of the season against Memphis, the MSU offense went into a tailspin, scoring no more than 14 points in any one game during the next five games. In fact, they were shut out in two of those games, the first time an MSU offense was shut out twice in a season since the 1989 season.
MSU fans were restless and some, in their desperation, were calling for heads - coaches and players - to roll.
Even Coach Sherrill appeared to be at a loss as to what to do. However, Coach Sherrill, a man some would say is loyal to an extreme, knew something had to be done so he decided to play backup quarterback Kevin Fant more to see if that would help the situation. The improvement was almost immediate.
An MSU offense that had scored just 37 points in its last five games scored 17 points against Kentucky. Ok, so Kentucky's defense is not a great measuring stick for an offense to measure itself by. However, a win is a win and MSU pulled out a 17-14 win over the Wildcats. The fans were happy and the coaches and players had a reward for continuing to play and practice hard after been demoralized during the past five games.
Fant, after completing just 39% of his passes prior to the Kentucky game, completed 6-of-10 for 120 yards and a touchdown. Not bad numbers for his first real extensive action of the season.
In the meantime, sophomore wide receiver, Justin Jenkins, a man as likely to drop a ball as to catch it during the first part of the season, quit dropping passes. Something had happened a couple weeks prior to the Kentucky game that very few folks knew about: Justin had started wearing a contact in his left eye to help his depth perception. It seemed to work because Justin caught 3 passes for 87 yards during the Kentucky game. Like Fant's number, they weren't the best in the world but they were still solid numbers.
Another factor was the fact that senior running back Dicenzo Miller was back in the lineup. Although not completely healthy, he ran for over 130 yards against Kentucky.
With a win under their belt the Bulldogs now had to travel to Alabama to see if they could continue their momentum.
It looked they would with MSU holding a lead going into the fourth quarter. That lead would evaporate when the MSU offense and defense seemingly disappeared in the fourth quarter. However, there was improvement in the offense with their 17 points against a better defense than they had faced the previous week.
Fant's and Jenkins' numbers improved to 12-of-29, 175 yards and 2 TDS and 5 receptions for 38 yards respectively. This was a hint that things were improving.
Next up was Arkansas, at Fayetteville, Arkansas. Never a team that MSU's Coach Sherrill had success against, the Bulldogs held a lead late in the fourth quarter only to see Arkansas stun the Bulldog defense with a 47 second touchdown drive with just a couple of minutes left in the game. MSU could do nothing with the ball and wound up losing the game 24 to 21.
After scoring 17 points in each of the previous two games, the MSU offense had scored 21. Even with the loss, things were looking up.
Not only was there improvement in the point total, Fant, Jenkins and Miller continued to show nice solid numbers. Fant was 17-of-31 with 1 touchdown and 192 yards. The one blemish were his three interceptions. Jenkins caught 5 passes for 67 yards, while Miller rushed for 59 yards. Not great numbers but better than the previous week.
Now the Mississippi Rebels were coming to town. All you heard was Eli this and Eli that. Eli Manning was the darling of the media and Fant was just the backup trying to pull his team out of their tailspin.
That would all change once this game became history. Mississippi State defeated Mississippi 36 to 28 behind the 14-of-21 passing performance of Fant. Fant also passed for 263 yards and 1 touchdown. For the fourth straight week, he had thrown for more yards than the previous week.
In the meantime, Justin Jenkins caught 7 passes for 116 yards. He, like Fant, continued to improve his performance.
Dicenzo Miller, taking pride in performing well against Mississippi, ran for 121 yards.
The MSU fans were excited now. The team had now won two of four games and the momentum was once again back.
But more was in store because the 9th ranked BYU Cougars were coming to town for MSU's final game of the 2001 season. A victory over the ranked Cougars would give the MSU Bulldogs even more to build on for the winter, spring, summer and next season.
While the Bulldog coaches and players gave it their all, an officiating crew that could have taken a hint from Justin Jenkins and gone out and purchased some contacts, called - and in some cases not called - the worst game that MSU head football coach Jackie Sherrill had ever seen.
BYU, with the help of the officials, pulled out a last second 41-38 victory over the Bulldogs.
Even with the loss, the youngsters Fant and Jenkins continued to show improvement and rolled up even better numbers than their personal highs of the past week. Fant threw for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 20-of-28 passes. Jenkins once again caught 7 passes but increased his yardage total ot 133. Miller once again had a solid day, scoring 2 touchdowns while running for 119 yards.
You add those numbers up and you see that Fant threw for 1,096 yards and 8 touchdowns on 74-of-119 (62%) passing, while Jenkins caught 27 passes (5.4 catches per game) for 441 yards. Miller rushed for 456 yards (91.2 yards per game) during the same period.
With the improved play of these three players, the MSU offense also showed point production improvement, going from an offense that was averaging 11.2 points per game in the first 6 games of the season to an offense that averaged 25.8 points per game during the next 5.
With Fant and Jenkins coming back, and what appears to be a great recruiting class coming in and a defense that should be improved - mainly due to juco guys who have now gotten their feet wet in SEC action - and you have the ingredients of a very good MSU team next season.
The seniors will be missed but they have laid a foundation that will be here long after they have gone.
Did you know that if an article, skuttle-butt or message board has a red star by it that is a premium item? Instead of having a separate premium page as I had before on my previous page, the free and premium pages are now merged. Not having to maintain two separate pages allows me more time to provide content for you guys.
This is not really technical help related but look for a calendar to be added to Gene's Page in the next week or two. On this calendar will be all MSU sporting events as far into the future as there are MSU schedules available and other MSU events (Super Bulldog Weekend, coaches radio shows, etc.), including any alumni chapter events you guys may have in the future. This calendar has great potential and should become a very popular part of my page. You can thank my wife Mary Ann for this special addition to Gene's Page. She found the product on the web and after purchasing it for a significant fee, she downloaded it, set it up, and has been adding events to it the past week. We are both really excited about this calendar and hope each of you will be as well.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.