What a difference a couple of wins can make.
Mississippi State sat at 4-6 entering the final two weeks of the regular season and had just lost Dak Prescott, its top rusher and passer, to injury.
Things were beginning to look pretty bleak for the Bulldogs chances at returning to a fourth consecutive bowl game.
But with its back against the wall, MSU responded with dramatic overtime victories over Arkansas and Ole Miss to even its record and advance into the postseason.
The Bulldogs’ 24-17 win against Arkansas in Little Rock was their first ever in the Natural State. Safety Nickoe Whitley forced a pivotal fumble late in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime but things appeared to turn for the worse as quarterback Tyler Russell went down with an injury at the end of regulation.
But true freshman Damian Williams did not seem fazed, entering the game in overtime and scoring on a 25-yard run on the first play. Cornerback Taveze Calhoun sealed the game with an interception ending the Razorbacks possession.
Williams would remain State’s lone healthy quarterback heading into the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss. Williams performed admirably in his first start but it was not until Prescott entered the game in the fourth quarter that the Bulldogs offense began to click.
Prescott led Mississippi State to a game-tying field goal and set Evan Sobiesk up for a potential game-winning 39-yard kick with two seconds remaining. In overtime, Prescott pleaded with head coach Dan Mullen to let him run the ball on 4th-and-2 from the 4-yard line and not only picked up the first down but scored on the play putting the pressure on the Rebels.
Whitley once again made an impact at a crucial moment stripping Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace of the ball just before he crossed the goal line. The ball bounce into the awaiting arms of Jamerson Love to seal the Egg Bowl victory and send the Bulldogs to the Liberty Bowl.
As it turns out, it would be the final play Whitley makes at the college level. The fifth-year season had been playing through an ACL tear since week two and had surgery to repair his knee last week ending his collegiate career.
Mullen was right in saying that 6-6 is not a banner year, but advancing to a fourth straight bowl is a monumental achievement for a program that has never done so.
Now MSU will get a few extra weeks of vital practice time for a team that is only graduating 13 seniors and one final outing for those seniors.
Logan Lowery (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers MSU for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideMSUSports.com.