Fant looks to salvage season vs. UT

Kevin Fant never envisioned this kind of finish to his college football career.

Mississippi State's senior quarterback had reason to believe his farewell season could be special. He was coming off a successful junior season. The Bulldogs had enough returning talent to compete at a high level in the Southeastern Conference.

For a variety of reasons, things didn't work out that way. Mississippi State is saddled with a 2-7 overall record and 1-4 SEC mark that ranks last in the SEC West Division.

Fant's individual numbers aren't fantastic. He ranks sixth in the SEC in passing with 205 yards per game, but he has thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13).

But forget the individual numbers. Fant is disappointed in the team's performance. On Saturday, he'll try to reverse the ugly trend of losing when the Bulldogs tangle with Tennessee.

''It hasn't been too good,'' Fant said of his season thus far. ''We are not winning. I don't look at a lot of stats. I want to win. That's all I look at. So, no, it hasn't been a good year.''

Fant had his sights set on better things for the 2003 season. He threw for 1,928 yards last season -- the fifth-highest yardage total in school history -- and ranked fifth in SEC passing.

The return of All-America candidate receiver Justin Jenkins and rising star Omar Conner, another dependable pass catcher, gave Fant and the Bulldogs reason for optimism.

But an inconsistent performance by the offense has prevented Mississippi State from reaching its potential. The most recent poor performance came in a 38-0 loss to Alabama.

''The best way to sum it up is we don't have 11 people doing their job all of the time,'' Fant said. ''I felt confident coming into the year, and I think the whole team did too. Things just started going against us.''

The Bulldogs' rushing offense has been subpar, ranking last in the SEC. The lack of an established running game hasn't helped the passing attack.

The result has been a lackluster offense that ranks next-to-last in total offense and scoring offense.

''The run and pass have to compliment each other,'' Fant said. ''At times we run it good, but we are not consistent. We run it good for a quarter, but not for a whole game. In the SEC, you have to play four quarters every week. You can't just be good at certain times.''

Fant is quick to shoulder his share of the blame for the Bulldogs' woes. His interceptions have been a problem, often coming when Mississippi State is trailing by large margins.

''The turnovers kill you,'' he said. ''I am an aggressive quarterback. You have to be aggressive to come back. You have to take chances. I have taken some chances, and it has led to some interceptions.''

The offensive line must also absorb some of the criticism. Fant was sacked five times against Alabama.

''It's embarrassing to see Kevin on the ground all the time,'' Mississippi State guard Chris McNeil said. ''As an offensive line, we take pride in protecting our quarterback. It looks bad on us, and we take it personally. Coming this week, we are going to work on getting our physical attitude back.''

Simply posting a win would work wonders for the downtrodden Bulldogs.

''When it rains, it pours,'' Fant said. ''We just want to find a way to win. We'd like to win our last few games. A lot of the younger guys have not experienced winning. We've got to make it a habit. I want it to be like it was when I first came here. The hard thing is keeping everybody positive. We will try to be successful from here on out.''

Allowing retiring coach Jackie Sherrill to leave on a successful note is also important to the Bulldogs, who can guarantee their coach leaves with a winning record at Mississippi State with one more win. Sherrill is 75-72-2 heading into the Tennessee game.

''We will play our best for him no matter what,'' Fant said. ''He isn't worried about his record. He just wants to help this team. He has done that since he has been here.''

A win over Tennessee would be a huge lift for the Bulldogs.

''We just need to win a football game,'' Fant said. ''We are trying to get that positive momentum going. We are trying to dig out of the hole.''

Regardless of how the remainder of the season goes, Fant said he wouldn't change anything if he had his career to do over again.

''I wanted to play here,'' he said. ''I love Mississippi State. I just wish I could have been more successful, but I learned a lot here. I learned a lot about myself through the hard times.''


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