November 10, 2013 1:19:09 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen could recall each special teams miscue Saturday in a 51-41 loss to No. 11 Texas A&M.
"We can't have these types of things happen in critical moments of the game," Mullen said after his 15th-straight loss to a top-25 opponent.
MSU had a punt blocked, a field goal blocked, a roughing the punter penalty, and a 100-yard kickoff return that cost it 19 points in the program's eighth-straight defeat away from Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
Mullen, who has made it a point of emphasis in his five-year head coaching career to be responsible for MSU's special teams units and split the duties evenly among the entire staff, could identify with total recall the issues on all the errors in that department.
The first issue that hit MSU (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) was another malfunction with punter Devon Bell standing in his end zone.
In Bell's first attempt to punt in his end zone, the sophomore dropped the snap two weeks ago against Kentucky resulting in a safety that kept the Wildcats close in the Bulldogs' 28-22 victory.
In a 7-7 game Saturday with 90 seconds left in the first quarter, Texas A&M third-string free safety Sam Moeller broke through the middle of the Bulldogs offensive line to block Bell's punt attempt.
"It's our second blocked punt in a couple weeks here lately and we're aggressive on those by nature," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We're using our front-line guys on special teams and our guys buy into the importance."
Since Sumlin took over A&M last year, he hired Jeff Banks as a special teams coordinator along with his duties as a tight ends coach. Mullen has been staunch in his consistent belief that a special teams specific coach isn't needed for his program.
"Jeff has brought a real solid and dynamic dimension to our football team that has helped us everyday," Sumlin said. "The blocked field goal was as important tonight as any play for a momentum standpoint that was made tonight. Special teams was a huge factor in this football game and there's no denying that."
Moeller was never touched on his path to the sophomore punter and nearly tackled Bell before his foot touched the ball. The football immediately ricocheted off Moeller and rolled beyond the end line for safety.
"I know what happened on that one - guy ran the wrong way, period," Mullen said. "When they bring the house and a guy runs the complete wrong way, they should block the punt and they did."
The play resulted in MSU's first blocked punt since Mullen's first season when Florida, Mullen's former employer, turned the trick in Starkville in a 29-19 victory against the Bulldogs on Oct. 24, 2009.
In the third quarter, No. 11 A&M (8-2, 4-2 in SEC) got its second half opening drive extended when Deontay Evans nailed Aggies punter Drew Kaser for a obvious roughing penalty and automatic first down. Kaser rolled to the right for a rugby style kick but had gotten the punt off long after Evans took a physical shot at the sophomore punter.
"That's just a poor choice there by a player to not recognize that even though the punter is rolling towards you, you still can't make contact with him at all," Mullen said. "That's a complete mental error by our football that we have to get coached out of them quickly."
Following a interception by MSU junior cornerback Jamerson Love, MSU was unable to turn that momentum shift into points after a 40-yard field goal into the wind. Mullen the kick, which was into a stiff wind, was right on the end edge range of redshirt freshman walk-on Evan Sobiesk. The low line drive kick was blocked up the middle and Mullen chalked up that play to a solid athletic play by Texas A&M's defensive front.
"We gave up a little bit of penetration there and combined with a necessary low kick, that'll happen," Mullen said. "Evan told me 'I thought I hit the ball pretty well coach' and I think that he did. The kid for them just timed the jump really well and got a hand on it."
When MSU cut the deficit to just 10 points in the fourth quarter, it couldn't help but avoid one final special teams foul-up. Texas A&M Trey Williams found a seam and broke two tackles on the way to a 97-yard kickoff return.
"I think he made two guys miss and then broke two other tackles on that run so it was poor tackling and a great athletic play for him on that combined," Mullen said. "Just crushing to have that happen right after we score and had something good happen."
The only reprieve MSU got on this back-breaking special teams blunder was a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Williams somersaulted into the end zone. It took Texas A&M just three plays after the penalty to score a touchdown on a 2-yard pass from Johnny Manziel to Nehemiah Hicks.
"We laughed because he didn't even know what he'd done wrong there on the play," Sumlin said. "It's something where we talked about it and Trey has been a solid fundamental player for us all year. I'm not worried about that issue."
Mullen couldn't help think some of the "big plays" Texas A&M made were in the third and sometimes forgotten element of football.
"Give A&M credit. They made more plays than our kids did tonight, but just like I always say in a SEC game, it's a matter of one or two plays, sometimes involving special teams that can turn a game," Mullen said. "Tonight that happened multiple times to us again."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.