STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has lost four times at home this season, by an average of eight points. Bowl hopes are slipping away, but the Bulldogs’ sense of hope is not.
If nothing else, MSU (3-5, 1-3 SEC) has shown remarkable mental and emotional resilience under first-year coach Dan Mullen, at least outwardly. The Bulldogs head to Kentucky (4-3, 1-3) this weekend with designs on putting Saturday’s 29-19 loss to No. 1 Florida behind them and regaining some momentum for the season’s final stretch.
“You learn from your mistakes and get ready for Kentucky,” said quarterback Tyson Lee, who threw three interceptions against Florida. “I can’t do anything about the Florida game. I learned from it – things you did well, learn from that; things you did bad, try to correct it.”
The goal for such a young team under a new coach is to make measurable progress each week. One of State’s biggest question marks coming into the season was its secondary.
A big lineup shuffle in recent weeks – with free safety Johnthan Banks and cornerbacks Corey Broomfield and Maurice Langston all becoming first-time starters – has paid dividends so far. MSU has made eight interceptions over the last three games after getting only three in the first five games.
“When you’re starting to play with a bunch of young guys and a lot of inexperienced guys, you have the potential to see big improvement, not just small improvement from week to week,” Mullen said. “I think we’ve seen some of those jumps of those guys making plays and playing with some confidence back there. There’s still a lot of growing and developing to do.”
Mullen said Sunday’s practice went well, and he likes the collective attitude of his team.
“They fight, they’ve showed the effort by the way they’ve battled in games, that we’ve lost four pretty tough games at home against nationally ranked opponents,” he said. “They battled in every one of those games, and they came out yesterday, and I was really pleased with their effort in practice yesterday.”
– O’Neal Wilder said he isn’t quite sure why MSU hasn’t thrown many deep balls lately, but the 6-foot-5 track star expects that to change soon.
“Me and Tyson have actually been working on a couple of deep balls lately, just to get the timing up and everything,” Wilder said. “I think probably this game or the next game, we might try to take a couple of shots. I hope so, and maybe we can get the offense going a little bit.”
Wilder is MSU’s best deep threat, but he’s been relatively quiet.
The redshirt freshman had a season-high three catches against Florida, but for only 21 yards.
For the season, Wilder has 10 catches for 140 yards with a long reception of 46.
“[W]e have the guys that can really get up there and make the plays, and we haven’t given them the opportunity in the past couple of weeks,” Lee said. “So I think that our coach might throw that out there and give O’Neal and some of those guys the opportunity to go down and make some plays.”
– Defensive lineman Charles Burns, who’s missed the last three games with a knee injury, was back at practice Sunday and should play this week.
– Offensive lineman Tobias Smith, who’s seen limited action this year and hasn’t played the last two games, is still day-to-day. He’s still trying to recover from preseason ankle surgery.
– Kicker Sean Brauchle, who’s got a pulled leg muscle, was available Saturday for short-range kicks, but he’s not ready for long field goal attempts or kickoffs.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal