Bulldogs confront physical, mental tests

STARKVILLE – The true test for Mississippi State wasn’t the LSU game itself, even though the heart-breaking 30-26 loss a week ago was challenge enough.
For this young team, under a new head coach and his new schemes, the test was coming back the day after, the week after, and trading in the pain of the immediate past for the purpose of the immediate future.
How the Bulldogs (2-2) fare today when No. 25 Georgia Tech (3-1) pays a visit will depend as much on that test of internal fortitude as on how they handle the Yellow Jackets’ tricky spread option offense.
“What happened last week is devastating, it hurt our whole team mentality-wise and everything,” junior center J.C. Brignone said. “But that doesn’t do anything but give us fire. We came out and had a tough practice (Sunday), the coaches drilled us pretty hard, and that’s what we deserved.”
Practicing on Sundays, which were an off day when Sylvester Croom was coach, is a good mental and emotional salve for MSU’s players. Coach Dan Mullen likes it because of how quickly it shifts the focus from one Saturday to the next.
The players seem to like it, too.
“Whatever happens on Saturday, it’s over,” Brignone said. “You go on Sunday, and you start preparing for that next week. Nobody remembers what you did last week.”
State needs to erase a particular memory from last season, too – Georgia Tech’s 38-7 thumping of the Bulldogs in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets racked up 500 yards of offense, with 438 of that coming on the ground.
MSU gained 407 yards but committed four turnovers and couldn’t finish drives.
Defensive tackle Kyle Love said he hasn’t watched film of that game since last year.
“I don’t want to too much look back at that,” he said.
There are valuable lessons to be gained from that game, though, and from the LSU game, too.
The Bulldogs simply weren’t prepared for Georgia Tech’s offense. Players didn’t stick with their assignments, and running backs were given wide open spaces to run in.
First-year defensive coordinator Carl Torbush has stressed playing “alignment, assignment football” today.
“I think we have a really good plan,” Mullen said.
As for the LSU game, it was a stark reminder how turnovers – MSU had four, LSU none – can mitigate an otherwise solid performance. A reprise of such poor ball protection will give Tech’s clock-eating offense, second in the ACC in time of possession (32:21 per game), a chance to wear down State’s defense.
The most important lesson from that game, though, isn’t quite as tangible. LSU preserved its win with a goal line stand in the waning moments.
“Our guys are really learning how to win here,” Mullen said.
That’s the greatest challenge of all.

Contact: brad.locke@djournal.com or 678-1571.

Today’s game at a glance
– Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville
– Kickoff: 6:35 p.m. n Television: CSS; live streaming at ESPN360.com
– Radio: MSU network; XM Channel 242; Sirius Channel 211.
– Records: Georgia Tech 3-1, MSU 2-2.
– Series: Georgia Tech leads 3-0.
– 2008: Georgia Tech won 38-7 in Atlanta on the strength of 438 rushing yards.
– Coaches – Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson, 12-5 at Georgia Tech (second year), 119-44 overall (13th year); MSU – Dan Mullen, 2-2 (first year).
– Statistical leaders – Georgia Tech: RB Jonathan Dwyer 49-326, 2 TDs; QB Josh Nesbitt 22-51-2, 446 yards, 2 TDs passing, 78-310, 3 TDs rushing; WR Demaryius Thomas 16-362, 2 TDs; S Morgan Burnett 20 tackles, 3 INTs. MSU: QB Tyson Lee 38-76-3, 388 yards, 2 TDs; RB Anthony Dixon 68-321, 3 TDs; TE Marcus Green 10-166, 2 TDs; LB K.J. Wright 26 tackles, 3.5 TFL; LB Jamar Chaney 24 tackles.
– Trends: Chaney has made 15 of his tackles over the last two games. … Dixon hasn’t had a fumble in 16 games, the last coming in the 2007 Egg Bowl. … Tech has led the ACC in rushing the past two seasons and leads this year with 262.0 ypg. … Under Johnson, Tech is 6-1 in games decided by four points or less.
– Notes: This is Georgia Tech’s first visit to Starkville. … MSU has 28 plays of 20-plus yards this season; Tech has 18. … Tech’s Jerrard Tarrant has returned two punts for TD this season. … In addition to Green, Leon Berry and Chad Bumphis have 10 catches apiece for MSU.
– Summing it up: “You don’t do your assignment, they’re going to gash you for a lot of yards.” – MSU linebacker Jamar Chaney, on Georgia Tech’s spread option offense
– Prediction: MSU, 27-23.

Read more about College Football in GameDay in today’s NEMS Daily Journal.

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal