Oh. I see. Scratch that theory. It really did happen. And it really, really hurts.
It's probably best that I'm too tired to ramble on at any length, as I might slip back into the hyperventilated state of aggravation that I succumbed to midway of the fourth quarter last night. You'd think after almost three decades chasing the Dogs around the league another such setback would be taken in-stride. Especially as I really do grasp the enormity of this task Mississippi State's staff is attempting. When I used ‘resurrect' in the gamer last night (or was it this morning? I was last man out of the press box and it was waaaay after midnight) I meant in the full scope of the word.
But for whatever reason this loss popped a few personal pressure valves. There is just no reason for Mississippi State to not come home this time with a victory. A SEC victory. A SEC road victory. Yes, that was two bad football teams playing last night but dammit, the Dogs had every reason and enough opportunities to grab that game from opening kickoff (hey, they began the game on UK's 46 yard line!) and never let go.
Unless of course they gave it away. And wouldn't you just know… The Bulldogs handed away opportunities as if they were Halloween treats and tricked themselves out of a win that ‘desperately needed' doesn't begin to describe.
OK, time for a couple of deep breaths as I'm getting unduly riled again. Unfairly, too, for the most part. The players and staff didn't try to lose this one any more than any other setback of the season. We can debate a few tactical issues as always, such as forgetting about that Norwood guy in the second quarter, or not giving him the ball on 3rd-and-3 at the UK nine…twice, if that's what it took. To borrow from the locals, when you've got a hoss like #12 ride him. And egad, what incredibly lousy luck Sylvester Croom had in losing Keith Andrews for THIS game.
But if the details can be quibbled, the overriding fact is the Bulldogs let another one get away, undeniably. Too bad y'all couldn't watch it—and to those who made the trip, you're the week's MVPs in my book. For those who claim this staff is too inflexible and unable to adjust, sorry, I saw sufficient mixing and matching over the course of the contest within the constraints of the ability and experience of available personnel. I saw a team play hard enough to win, even.
And I saw the sorts of mistakes and missed chances that are the 2005 hallmark. Look, all of you are weary of hearing it but not nearly as tired as Croom is of saying it, but this really, truly came all the way down to e-x-e-c-u-t-i-o-n. S-e-r-i-o-u-s-l-y. The winning plays were there on both sides of the line…and we can't give the defense a free pass either as just a couple of timely tackles would have likely produced a shutout. Heck, if Clarence McDougal catches that line-drive with his hands and not his chest pads, it's another game entirely.
Oh, you shoot back that it can't be all failure in execution? Perhaps not against the better SEC teams, granted. But Kentucky was primed for execution and State didn't pull the handle, much as last week against Houston…though the Cougars would have been a harder foe to put away, of course. Not these Kats. If Omarr Conner doesn't overshoot either Bryson Davis or Eric Butler in the first quarter, State is in control kick-to-horn. Or if Mike Henig hangs on to that snap and falls across the goal line, or hands off, or whatever the call was. Hmm, just realized none of us three Mississippi scribes covering the game thought to ask.
Ah, well. The game is done, and another losing season assured. I suppose the personal anger is just the cumulative effect of writing about a combined result of, let's see, 13-41since the Snow Bowl? I don't have a record book handy and my memory is a bit shaky after some 500 miles. There must just be a point when even an old-timer who has ridden the ups, downs, and arounds of a football program yields to emotional exhaustion and snaps. Or at least snaps at folk who happen to cross the verbal path at the wrong moments. And funny thing, by the time I got to the post-game interview room the frustration had vented and I was ready to ask, listen, and learn. It's still a job to do, y'know.
Besides, a fanzine writer's ire was NOTHING compared to Croom's blunt evaluation. I've seen the coach annoyed, upset, and even angry before. This was different. I mean, for him to come right out and say that some things won't get better until some unnamed older Dogs graduate moved some program goalposts. Oh, and note he said ‘graduate.' He's serious about that, too. Some guys might lose snaps or lose jobs but they'd by golly better stay on the classroom track no matter what. See how Croom still keeps an eye on the bigger, personal picture?
You know, I've heard from some fans and read others posting about how the coach is too hard on the guys, that he ought to praise, encourage, compliment, say things to boost spirits. And that he ought to shoulder all the blame. Uhhh, thinking back to five months of postgames in two seasons I can recall plenty of instances where Croom said it all ultimately fell on him. Sheesh, what's the guy gotta do, public penance for every time a MSU wide receiver turns the wrong corner on a pattern practiced all week?
The other subject is, well, more subjective. I've had the same thought at times, and come to a conclusion not likely to prove popular. This is the worst possible time for Croom to soften. To do so risks wasting all the effort he, the staff, and the players who've toughed it through so far have invested. No, I don't say that when going down a wrong road the solution is to push the gas pedal harder. In fact I'm far from convinced this is a wrong road at all; I actually tend to believe this tough, to some minds even harsh, approach is the only hope Mississippi State now has of establishing an attitude that can last. Why?
Because there are plenty of Dogs who are buying into this plan. Not just the new kids recruited by this staff, either, but some veterans who've not been entirely broken by losing seasons. They haven't all and I guess that's inevitable. Goodness knows 2001-05 has been more than should be demanded of Dogs, whether it's those on the field or those in the seats. Croom's rules are hard and fast, but no matter what the impression this man understands that all players are individuals. The trick is melding disparate personalities and talents into a team without creating a bunch of robots. If that makes any sense.
Look. I'm not telling everyone, make that anyone, to stay on the ship just because it's the Right Thing to do. We're fans, not players, and we have the option of stepping away for a while to calm down (or de-tox if you wish) and, should things improve in seasons to come, of returning someday for just the price of a ticket. Players don't have that luxury. They are committed, or certainly had better be after what Croom had to say last night. With that in mind it should be an interesting week in practice, and instructive to see who dresses out for this weekend. Though we have been told Henig will start at quarterback already. You might be interested to know that Omarr responded well and could even smile when talking to us Three Wise Guys about battling to get his job back. It's reactions such as these that keep prompting a sense of encouragement that maybe there are enough Dogs on this roster to form a durable core an eventually-successful team can be built around.
Or maybe it's just the caffeine talking. Sheesh. This has gone on a lot longer than intended. I'd best call it a night if I'm to be semi-awake for the morning teleconference when we'll update a few items and hear what Croom saw in impersonal game tape review. Hey, the coach has to set emotion aside also because he's got a bigger job of his own to do. At least we're all home for this weekend and don't venture away for a couple more weeks.
Along that line, I absolutely must report two notes about this trip. First, unleaded regular was selling for $2.15 in Lexington. Too bad I had 3/4s of a tank at the time. And second, while scanning Kentucky radio stations this morning on Collins Parkway for some sort of sportstalk, I listened with at first amazement and then amusement to a speaker on 1040AM lecturing on—I kid you not—the genetic risks involved when close cousins marry.
No, no way even I could make that up. At least it gave something to laugh about for Halloween. Along that line, better remember to get popcorn before watching 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' for Halloween again. Not meat loaf again...