Mississippi State’s lopsided loss to Auburn last weekend was an eye-opener for all the wrong reasons.
The Bulldogs couldn’t move the ball on offense, couldn’t stop Auburn’s power running game and also struggled on special teams.
By halftime, Mississippi State had fallen into a 35-0 hole and finished with a 38-14 loss in front of half-empty Davis-Wade Stadium that was certainly one of the lowest points of coach Dan Mullen’s eight-year tenure at the school.
But Mullen isn’t in the mood to feel sorry for himself or his team. Mississippi State (2-3) has a short week to prepare for a road game against BYU (3-3) on Friday night.
“We have faced all kinds of highs and lows in the eight years that I have been here,” Mullen said. “I’ll be honest with you, when you deal with a high, you get back to work. When you deal with a low, you get back to work.”
And there’s plenty of work to be done — starting with Friday’s game against the Cougars — if Mississippi State wants to make a bowl game for a seventh straight season. BYU is coming off an impressive 31-14 win over Michigan State.
Mississippi State needs better play from plenty of people, starting with quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. The sophomore was 17 of 34 passing 181 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against Auburn. He also ran for a team-high 61 yards.
But most of his good moments came in the second half when Auburn was already in control of the game.
“I think more than anything it’s just execution,” Fitzgerald said. “We had a good game plan going in but we didn’t quite execute what we need to do.”
Fitzgerald could use some help, too. One promising play was when freshman Keith Mixon snagged a Fitzgerald pass close to the sideline, showed some nifty footwork to stay inbounds, and then ran 37 yards for a touchdown.
Mullen said he’s seeing a lot of good things on the field, but the Bulldogs are struggling to get 100 percent execution on a given play.
“If 11 guys do their job every play you have the opportunity to be successful,” Mullen said. “If 10 guys do their job the right way and one messes up or goes the wrong way, or doesn’t use good technique or one of those things, your chance for success drops dramatically.”
The recent losses have been a jarring setback for a Mississippi State program that has improved dramatically in recent years. Just two years ago, the Bulldogs were the No. 1 team in the country for five straight weeks and a real threat to win the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division.
That doesn’t appear to be the case these days.
But Mullen insists his program hasn’t lost momentum and has a great future ahead of it. He’s also not ready to give up on the current season.
“We have had some great years since I have been here, and we will have a lot more great years while I’m here,” Mullen said. “And this year may end up being one of those years. You never know how it’s going to play out.”
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