November 13, 2012 11:17:58 AM
STARKVILLE - For only the second time in his four-year tenure at Mississippi State University, Dan Mullen has lost three straight games.
The result is MSU (7-3, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference) is now unranked for the first time in two months and the instant question that fans want to know is: why?
Mullen has the answer and it's the Bulldogs are really close to the elite status but it's the small mistakes that are holding MSU back and causing Mullen's 4-14 record against the Western Division of the SEC.
"That's how small the margin of error is in this league," Mullen said. "So it's critical for us, and I think our guys understand that's how small that margin of error is, the detail that we need. Because there are a lot of things in that game, little things if we corrected we would have put ourselves in an opportunity to win it. We didn't. The guys can really get back to work and focusing on what they need to do to correct those things and find a way to win the game this week, in every phase of the game."
Two plays became the winning margin of No. 9 Louisiana State University's 37-17 victory Saturday night and increase the streak to 13 consecutive games over MSU and 11 in row in Baton Rouge dating back to 1992. During LSU's more than impressive streak against the Bulldogs, the Tigers (8-2, 4-2 in SEC) have outscored 489-161.
A fumble inside their own territory and a pop-up kickoff was easily turned into two touchdowns giving much-needed confidence to an LSU offense that was trotting field goal kicker Drew Alleman on the field way too often for its coaching staff's liking.
While ahead 7-6 in the second quarter, No. 22 MSU (7-3, 3-3 in SEC play) was trying a toss play away from their sidelines for the first action for redshirt freshman Derrick Milton. After he fumbled the pitch and LSU recovered the ball 14 yards behind the mishap, Milton wouldn't get another opportunity Saturday evening.
More importantly for MSU's upset chances, the Tigers would respond three plays later to take its first and last lead of the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Zach Mettenberger to Jarvis Landry.
Unlike its effort in the home debacle against Texas A&M University, MSU didn't mentally get lost as they drove down the field to achieve a 47-yard field goal by Devon Bell to make it a 13-10 deficit. The career long kick in the swirling wind gave the freshman kicker confidence but also his team momentum knowing they would get the ball first in the second half.
Then Dan Mullen, the special teams coach at MSU, ordered a pop-up kick that was fair caught by LSU with 35 seconds left in the half. The field position allowed LSU to try a last ditch drive and the Tigers were able to 71 yards in just four plays culminating in a 20-yard touchdown strike from Mettenberger to tailback Spencer Ware on a wheel route. Two blown coverages and Mettenberger found wide open LSU receivers with perfect strikes from the pocket to confuse the MSU secondary.
Mullen mentioned this Saturday (11:21 a.m., SEC Network) at Davis Wade Stadium against the University of Arkansas will honor the first recruiting class of the Bulldogs coach after he stepped off the plane with then-athletics director Greg Byrne in Starkville. The class, which was ranked in the Top 25 nationally, included wide receiver Chad Bumphis, cornerback Johnthan Banks, defensive tackle Josh Boyd and defensive back Corey Broomfield.
"As a staff we've got to make sure we're cleaner, our players have to cleaner," Mullen said Monday. "It's a big game. It's a last home game for our seniors. This is my first recruiting class. I think they're leaving one of the most successful classes in school history. And their last opportunity in front of the fans; and the fans their last opportunity to come thank them and show their support to what these guys have meant to the program. How they finish off their career the right way here at home."
I'll have a feature in Tuesday's edition of The Dispatch that focuses on the impressive performances of junior quarterback Tyler Russell, who was also part of that first recruiting class, against the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University and how it translates to a possible National Football League career.
"I really believe Tyler Russell is going to be an outstanding National Football League quarterback," MSU wide receivers coach Tim Brewster said. "He has all the qualities that you look for. He's upside is through the roof, he is going to continue to grow as a player the more snaps he get and the more live looks he gets and he can make all the throws. He is more athletic than people give him credit for being."
Mullen also announced the school will honor another member of that senior class as the late Nick Bell will be recognized on Senior Day Saturday. Mullen announced Monday the school's intention to include the late Nick Bell among the 28 seniors to be honored.
"It'll be a great opportunity to thank Nick's mom, who's always with us and continues to support everything we've done and say another good bye to him on Saturday," Mullen said.
Bell, 20, died on Nov. 2, 2010 at University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital after undergoing emergency surgery when a form of skin cancer had metastasized through his body.
"It's something that I don't think any of our players will ever forget, anybody in our program will ever forget," Mullen said. "We win a game, we've got to go play again next week. We lose a game, we've got to go play again next week but that is probably the most significant thing that's happened in my coaching career."
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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