Miss. State continues to slide

Just when you thought Mississippi State couldn't sink any lower, along comes Alabama.

A 38-0 drubbing at the hands of the Crimson Tide on Saturday dropped the downtrodden Bulldogs into the company of the ''legions of the miserable'' (apologies to former Tennessee coach Johnny Majors).

With the loss, Mississippi State allowed Alabama (4-6 overall, 2-4 in Southeastern Conference) to move out of the SEC West cellar. Without a fight, it seems, the Bulldogs assumed the role of last place in the West with a 2-7 overall mark and 1-4 record in the West.

For Bulldogs' coach Jackie Sherrill, who has experienced a number of tough seasons at the helm while managing to rank fourth among the nation's active coaches in wins, Saturday's loss was about as close to rock bottom as he can get.

Asked if the loss marked the lowest point in his career, Sherrill responded: ''This game, yes, as far as being able to counteract some things. We just weren't able to come back. Alabama did not run anything we were not prepared for.

''It comes down to confidence. You cannot fault the kids. We are where we are and we have to move on. We as coaches need to take the responsibility.''

Mississippi State's problems against Alabama were numerous. Quarterback Kevin Fant was harassed unmercifully the entire game, throwing for a mere 100 yards on 14-of-29 passing. He threw two interceptions and was sacked six times.

The Bulldogs were even more anemic in the rushing game. Alabama limited Mississippi State to 24 yards rushing.

Defense wasn't a priority, either. The Crimson Tide produced 401 yards of offense, exhibiting nearly perfect balance between the run and pass.

Mississippi State guard Chris McNeil isn't making excuses for the Bulldogs' lack of bite this season. It won't likely get any easier Saturday, when the Bulldogs battle a highly confident Tennessee team fresh off an upset of Miami.

''You can blame whoever, but it always comes back to the players,'' he said. ''We just have to come out here on Saturdays and be ready to play. We are just going to have to come together as a team and work through this.''

A glance at the SEC stats explains State's season in a nutshell. The Bulldogs rank last in scoring defense, rushing defense, overall defense and rushing offense. They are next to last in total offense.

Alabama needed little time to break the spirit of the Bulldogs' players. On the third play from scrimmage, quarterback Brodie Croyle connected with Zach Fletcher on what seemed like a harmless screen pass, but Fletcher broke a number of tackles enroute to an 86-yard touchdown.

Fant was intercepted on State's first possession, and the Tide scored again three plays later when Croyle hit Tyrone Prothro on a 17-yard scoring pass.

''They hit us in our weak spots,'' State linebacker T. J. Mawhinney said. ''You get out of position and there are going to be holes. They just pounded us three and four yards here and there. They wore us down. Their offensive line dominated us today.''

Offensively, the stat sheet was not pretty for the Bulldogs. Omarr Conner, a receiver, led the team in rushing with one carry for 24 yards. Jerious Norwood had five carries for nine yards.

Backup quarterback Kyle York replaced Fant, completing his only pass for 28 yards.

''We didn't focus in like we should have,'' Conner said. ''Their defense is good, but we are the better team. We just didn't put it together like we should have. We should have done better on offense. The past month, the offense has been doing its job, but today we came in and froze.''

Undoubtedly, Sherrill will be relieved to end the season. He announced his retirement on October 17. He will leave college football as the 13th winningest coach in NCAA history, but it doesn't look like he will go out in a blaze of glory.

State, which has finished last in the West the last two seasons, lost its third straight game. Opponents have outscored the Bulldogs 125-30 during the most recent slide.

Sherrill needs one more victory to ensure a winning record at State. He is 75-72-2 with three games left.

''I don't think we have thrown in the towel,'' Conner said. ''We have just been struggling. Some guys might throw their heads down, but most of us just want to win.''

Sherrill agrees.

''There are still guys that are fighting,'' he said.

Sherrill said he chose to announce his retirement early for the good of the program.

''I did what I needed to do,'' he said. ''You have to give the administration an opportunity to get someone in place. These young guys will have a chance to get some things back.''


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