Mississippi State battled top-ranked Alabama for four quarters Saturday night. The Bulldogs held the Crimson Tide to their lowest point total of the season and forced four turnovers.
But in the end Alabama proved to be too high a mountain for MSU to climb at this point in time. Although there were plenty of positives to take away from the contest, head coach Dan Mullen is not claiming any type of moral victory.
“Everybody was pretty disgusted going to sleep last night because we lost the game,” Mullen said. “Fortunately we get to turn right back around and get our guys back ready to play another one. I know we battled but there isn’t any moral victories or any of that stuff. You either win or you lose.”
The Bulldogs have played well the last two weeks but only have a pair of losses to show for their effort. Against Texas A&M, the offense produced outgained the Aggies but could not outscore them. This past weekend the defense executed well enough but injuries on offense and special teams letdowns were issues State could not overcome.
“We have to go play that complete game,” Mullen said. “You can put your finger on a couple of things here and there in each game that have been issues. I think our guys have learned that if we put a complete game together we’re going to be a pretty good team.”
The main injury concern currently is to quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell. Prescott injured his left shoulder late in the Texas A&M game and did not dress for Saturday’s game against Alabama. Russell was forced out of Saturday’s game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury of his own sustained while trying to make a tackle on his lone interception.
“I’m a pretty optimistic person generally in life so I’d like to think both of them will be available,” Mullen said. “I’m not a doctor though so that’s not my call. Hopefully we’ll get them both healed up. I don’t know the extent of where Tyler is at, we’ll find that out a little later today. I’ve been told Dak’s day-to-day. He was day-to-day last week but it’s a nerve issue so as soon as that calms down and he gets his strength back he’ll be ready to go.”
True freshman Damian Williams was forced into action for the final three series of the game. Williams had only played in two games prior to Saturday and finished the night 0 of 5 passing and was sacked once.
“We trust Damian,” Mullen said. “Because of our situation, he’s played earlier in the season and gotten reps at practice. He’s a winner and led his (high school) team to a state championship last year. Obviously as a coach, that’s a tough situation to put a true freshman into but I’m proud of how he handled that situation. He didn’t bat an eye, went out onto the field to do his job when his number was called. He knows we have faith in him and depending on the injury report, he might be the guy or the starter this week.”
Senior linebacker Deontae Skinner dressed for the Alabama game and could have played in an emergency situation according to Mullen. But Skinner was held out of action for the second straight game at the advice of the training staff.
The Bulldogs now face a must-win situation for their final two games. Mississippi State has to win out to break even with a 6-6 record to reach bowl eligibility for a fourth straight season.
Next up for the Bulldogs will be their last road game of the year traveling to Little Rock to take on Arkansas, a venue MSU has never won in.
“Little Rock is a tough place to go play,” Mullen said. “They’ve got a tough atmosphere and a great crowd. They’ve got a first-year coach that’s trying to develop and get their program back to where they want it to be. They’ve played a couple of teams tough this year battling right down to the end of games. That shows it’s going to be another great challenge for us this week.”
Arkansas began the year 3-0 under new head coach Bret Bielema but have dropped seven-straight since. The Razorbacks enjoyed the weekend off and will have had two weeks to prepare for their outing against State.
Mullen admitted his path has not crossed very often with Bielema but does recall a heartwarming gesture from the former Wisconsin head coach in the midst of a tragic situation in 2010.
“I really haven’t gotten to know him much but I have a lot of respect for him,” Mullen said. “We had a player pass away a couple of years ago named Nick Bell. I got a really nice, handwritten letter from Brett with some thoughts in that situation. Obviously to have a guy in the profession take time out of his schedule – who didn’t really know who I was, who was not in our conference or wasn’t associated with us – to write myself and our team a note I thought was a real class act. I gained a lot of respect for him as a man to take time to do that and that left a mark with me that will always stick with me about him.”