STARKVILLE, Miss. — It’s been a sobering two weeks for Mississippi State’s football team.
Consecutive lopsided losses to Alabama and Texas A&M have erased most of the momentum from an impressive 7-0 start to the season. Now, the No. 22 Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) must recover quickly and get ready for a night game at Tiger Stadium against No. 9 LSU (7-2, 3-2).
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said there won’t be major changes to personnel or the playbook going into the LSU game, but the Bulldogs must execute better on both sides of the ball.
“If you’re a student of the game and study the game, it is simple — you see a minor breakdown here and a minor breakdown there,” Mullen said. “When you make a mistake against quality teams, it costs you.”
Alabama and Texas A&M are certainly quality teams. So is LSU. Mississippi State’s status is less certain.
The Bulldogs have won three SEC games against Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee, but those programs are a combined 0-18 in conference play.
Now that Mississippi State is playing tougher competition, it’s been exposed on both sides of the ball. Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said he counted “close to 30 missed tackles” in last weekend’s loss to Texas A&M.
That was one major reason Johnny Manziel threw for 311 yards and rushed for 129 yards as Texas A&M built a 31-0 lead on the way to an easy 38-13 victory.
The Bulldogs will undoubtedly work on the physical breakdowns that caused Manziel’s big game. But the Bulldogs also must manage the emotional disappointment of almost certainly falling out of the SEC Western Division race.
It’s doubtful the Tigers will be in a forgiving mood in Death Valley this weekend.
History isn’t on Mississippi State’s side. The Bulldogs have lost 12 in a row to LSU and haven’t won in Baton Rouge since 1991.
Mullen said he expects the Bulldogs to be ready for Saturday’s challenge — mentally and physically. He said learning to deal with quick turnarounds is part of life in the SEC.
“A lot of leagues, there are one or two big games a year,” Mullen said. “In this league every week seems to be that way. So, it is not just the mental part of having to be up for such a big game every single week, but also the physical toll it takes from playing top national teams week in and week out on your body. You have to respond. Especially this point of the season, you have to have great mental and physical toughness to get through and win these football games.”
LSU can relate to Mississippi State’s recent disappointments. The Tigers are coming off a crushing 21-17 loss to Alabama on Saturday.
“Both of us are 7-2,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “They are coming off two losses. We’re sick to our stomach. It’s two teams with a lot to play for.”
And Mississippi State has a lot to fix.
LaDarius Perkins was leading the SEC in rushing two weeks ago with nearly 100 yards per game, but after gaining just 38 yards against Alabama and 42 against Texas A&M, he’s dropped to third in the league.
Tyler Russell threw an interception against both Texas A&M and Alabama after throwing just one in the first seven games combined.
And Mississippi State’s defense — once among the best in the league — surrendered 693 total yards to Texas A&M.
Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning echoed Mullen’s diagnoses: There isn’t one major problem, but several minor issues are adding up to losses.
“You can’t hide,” Koenning said. “You’re starting to get in the meat of your schedule. You’ve got to do exactly what you’re supposed to do. In these games, the small things are magnified.”