At the same time Mississippi State has had to take close care how this matter is treated internally. It would be too easy for the losing team to let such issues consume their mindset and interfere with preparations for the next game. Fortunately the Bulldogs have apparently avoided this trap. Even better, the affair seems to have inspired more positive inspirations within the locker room…particularly the example of their coach.
"You want to feel that he wants the best for his players and the program in general," says safety/cornerback Washington, who has experienced his own highs and lows in four State seasons. The senior d.b. equally understands that the Bulldogs can't carry any prior-game chips on their shoulder pads onto the Commonwealth Stadium field. For that matter they can't allow the letdown from a huge emotional and physical effort against the nation's top-ranked team linger any longer.
"We have to bounce back. We didn't get the win last week, but it's a new week for us and we're going out there to get the win," said Washington. As for recharging the mental batteries, he does not see this as a problem for this particular club. "We try to put a lot of emotion into every thing that we do. A lot of passion into everything we do. We love this game. And this week we're going to lock-in and prepare for another big game."
Huge, even, in terms of keeping Mississippi State's ambitions alive for the rest of this season. At 3-5 and with four conference contests still to play, the Bulldogs have little to now margin left for '09 error. Not if they intend to extend the schedule into bowl season in Mullen's first year here. This makes a successful Kentucky trip just about absolutely necessary in the big season picture.
Not for the first time either. It was last year's loss to the Wildcats, 14-13 due to both a blocked PAT and a clanked chip-shot field goal, that effectively doomed the '08 Dogs to a losing season. By contrast it was at Lexington in 2007 that State turned their season back in the right direction with a 31-14 upset of then-#14 Kentucky. Those Dogs finished strong and earned both the Liberty Bowl berth and the only winning season since 2000, so far, at MSU.
Yes, Washington was there. "I remember that game like it was yesterday. They were a ranked team with a high-powered offense. We just came in with the right mindset to get the win." Not just that but Washington, an alternate cornerback at the time, got his first and to-date only career interception in that game. Last year he had five tackles against the Wildcats as a starting corner.
Now the senior is still opening games but in a revised role; Washington started the Florida game as the nickel-safety and also played some corner; whereas at Middle Tennessee the week before he began the game at right cornerback before shuffling to extra safety. Either way, either role, Washington is having a fine final college campaign with 26 tackles and 2.5 stops for losses as well as two fumbles forced and two others recovered.
Expect Washington to be all over the field again this week chasing a familiar face. The Bulldog d.b. got very familiar last year with Kentucky's Randall Cobb, whether trying to cover him on pass routes; support against his rushing plays; or dropping to defend his passes. Washington saw Cobb literally do something of everything on offense as a freshman and now sees an even more accomplished sophomore. "Last year he was able to make some plays, after watching film he's their go-to guy and does a lot of things in the wildcat. We're going to have to keep our eye on him."
Especially Washington when he assumes his nickel-role, the defensive equivalent of a wildcat-back in some sense. They're not just comparable in how many jobs they do but even physically; Washington is listed at 5-10, 195 while Cobb began the season at 5-11, 188. With the regular starting quarterback sidelined by injury and other triggermen still developing, Kentucky has put most of the offense in Cobb's hands with two impressive wins resulting.
"He's just a play maker, it's not just one thing he does," Washington said. "That's what makes him such a unique player, he's able to do so many things." In fact, for all the threat there, Washington wouldn't mind Cobb staying full-time at quarterback or wildcat because at least the Bulldog wouldn't have to keep looking for wherever the opponent was every play by play. "That would be easier! But we know it's not going to happen so we'll have to keep our eye on him and do the best we can."
Which is a fitting label for the entire week given how critical this contest is for State. And, how competitive it's been since the two teams were tied together as permanent inter-Division SEC opponents. "It's always a big game," Washington said. "Every game is a big game for us, especially a conference game. But Kentucky, we always battle it out, a fight to the end."
A fight the Bulldogs know they must win. Yet if that implies extra pressure State players haven't shown it in public, nor any hangover from the Florida affair. If anything, events have served to draw the Dogs closer together this week. Especially the proof that, as the saying goes, the coach has their back. "And that's always good," agreed Washington.
"I've liked him since he came in the first day, he's a real personable guy and a real good coach."