November 16, 2010 10:39:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University''s football team has a pretty good understanding of the thin line between wins and losses.
Against the top teams in the Southeastern Conference, it takes a handful of mistakes to turn a close, winnable game into a loss. Such was the case Saturday against the University of Alabama, where a 6-3 deficit ballooned to a 27-3 hole in just three Crimson Tide offensive plays.
The balance between frustration and optimism is in MSU''s ability to play sound, mistake-free football.
The No. 22 Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3 SEC) have been ranked for five straight weeks by taking care of the football, running the ball effectively, and playing lock-down defense.
At times Saturday, the Bulldogs followed that plan. They held Mark Ingram in check, running backs Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins combined for 124 yards, they didn''t fumble, and they intercepted a pass and forced two fumbles.
But MSU also committed team''s seven penalties, threw two interceptions thrown, and surrendered three explosive scores.
MSU coach Dan Mullen likened the mistakes to minor glitches in the system, and he hopes his staff can troubleshoot ahead of the team''s matchup against No. 13 Arkansas (8-2, 4-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN). For the offensive line, which gave up five sacks and a handful of penalties, the film showed proved that.
"For the offensive line to be successful, it is five guys executing at the same time on every play," Mullen said. "That''s what we didn''t have. Individually you watch and grade each guy. Was it an awful performance from a bunch of individuals? No, but the problem is when one guy''s bad on each play."
On defense, the minor mistakes were more obvious because of Alabama''s long scoring plays. Missed tackles topped the list of critiques from players and coaches, who were disappointed because of the team''s talent and track record.
"There''s some guys who missed tackles I would rate as some of the best tacklers on our football team," MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "There was some things that were a little out of character for us. As a coaching staff, you can panic if this had been game one or game two and say I don''t know if we can do this.
"But I''m gonna put the trust in our players that there''s certain guys have been outstanding tacklers for us all year, and I know that they''ll respond with a better performance Saturday."
Alabama appeared to expose a flaw in MSU''s perimeter defense, but MSU''s success stuffing the middle forced the Crimson Tide to go wide, Diaz said.
Though the Bulldogs secondary missed tackles on the edge, the help defense was lacking.
Against Arkansas, which is armed with some of the SEC''s most talented skill players, pursuit defense will be paramount. Being burned by Alabama doesn''t worry the players ahead of facing Ryan Mallett and his stable of playmakers, middle linebacker Chris White said.
"It wasn''t one person missing a tackle, it was the whole defense because we weren''t running to the ball like we should have," White said. "You can be unrealistic about it, but you''re gonna miss tackles because offenses have so many players that are gonna make you miss."
Seniors ready for last home game
In what has been a breakout season for MSU''s seniors, the fact they''ll play their last game at Davis Wade Stadium is starting to sink in.
MSU starting center J.C. Brignone, a fifth-year senior, said Saturday is "just another game," though he has thought about the past five years and all the work he has put in with his fellow 21 seniors.
White, a junior college transfer, has witnessed tremendous growth in game day atmosphere and attendance.
"I''m going to be pretty sad about it," White said. "I''ve been playing college football for four years and it''s gone by pretty fast. It''s seemed slow while it''s been going on, but now it seems like it''s flown by.
"Coach Mullen just has this fan base excited about Mississippi State football, which I love so I can come back here on day and still come to a packed house and watch Mississippi State football."
Cook to wear No. 36
MSU tight end Kendrick Cook will honor former teammate Nick Bell by wearing his number No. 36 on Saturday against Arkansas.
Cook, a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity brother with Bell, is the second player to honor Bell, who passed away two weeks ago after a bout with cancer. Safety Charles Mitchell wore the number against Alabama.
A different player will wear the number in the regular season finale against the University of Mississippi 6 p.m. (ESPNU).