Unfortunately for the maroon and
white that was as good as it got, as a 43-14 loss to Auburn two weeks ago was
followed by a shocking 9-7 loss to Division I-AA Maine at home on Saturday, to
leave the Bulldogs reeling at 1-2.
The task does not get any easier
for Mississippi State either, as next up on the schedule is a trip to Baton
Rouge, La., to face an LSU team (2-1) dealing with issues of its own.
The 2003 national champions have
looked like shells of their former selves in 2004, and are misfiring on all
cylinders after a 10-9 loss on the road to Auburn that saw yet another missed extra point
decide the outcome of a game.
Right now, the Bulldogs would just
like to be close enough to score extra points, as an offensive attack that
looked potent against the Green Wave has now all but dried up completely.
Mississippi State raked up 310 yards of total offense against Tulane, but lost
their way completely against the Tigers, totaling a mere 271 total yards – two
thirds of which came through the air, as sophomore quarterback Omar Connor
completed 16-of-26 for 113 yards, while backup Kyle York completed 8-of-10 for a
further 77 yards and both touchdown passes, by which time the Bulldogs were
already trailing 43-0 and playing against Auburn’s backups.
The story got even worse against
Maine, ranked No. 15 in the latest I-AA poll, as Mississippi State drew blood in
the first quarter but were then shut out the rest of the way, and failed to even
reach field goal range against the Black Bears in their final two drives as time
As a result, Mississippi State is now left scratching its head, with an
offensive unit currently ranked No. 87 in Division I-A – behind Hawaii, UL-Lafayette, and
Army, three teams with a combined 1-6 record.
The Bulldogs are faring better on
the defensive side of the ball, ranked No. 6 in the SEC and No. 37 in the
nation, but the old adage “defense wins championships” still hinges on the
offense’s ability to put up at least a few points on the board – and when you
can score no more than a single touchdown at home against a I-AA school that had
never beaten a I-A school before, there are serious problems that need to be
Through three games, Mississippi State has put up more first downs and run
more than 30 plays more than its opponents, and has a 20-yard per game advantage
in total offense. The Bulldogs have passed for more yards, intercepted more
passes, and converted more third- and fourth-downs than anyone they have played
against, and have twice as much fourth-quarter possession as Tulane, Auburn, and Maine.
The problem, simply, is that they
can’t get the ball into the end zone.
Three times Mississippi State had the ball in Tulane territory and
came away empty-handed. Three times Mississippi State had the ball in Auburn territory and came away empty-handed.
But both of those ineptitudes pale
in comparison to the performance against Maine. Five times the Bulldogs crossed into
Bear territory and failed to score. There was a missed field goal from the
15-yard line, a fumble on the four-yard line, an interception at the 14-yard
line, a fumble on the goalline – that led to Maine’s sole touchdown drive – and
an incomplete pass at the 46-yard line as time expired.
All of these failed opportunities
indicate an impotent attack that no longer scares even a I-AA
Connor has completed 60 percent of
his passes for 465 yards, but has only thrown two touchdown passes with one
interception. Mississippi State’s main offensive weapons appear to be running
backs Jerious Norwood and Fred Reid, who have combined for 317 yards and two
touchdowns – 74 yards and one score fewer than LSU’s triple tailback combination
of Justin Vincent, Alley Broussard, and Joseph Addai.
The Bulldogs’ leading
receiver? Sophomore wideout Will Prosser, who with 168 yards on nine catches would rank third on the Tigers’
roster behind sophomores Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis.
Ineptitude has been a theme on the
Mississippi State sidelines for some time now, and Croom has to break an
ingrained culture of losing in Starkville if he hopes to turn the Bulldogs
around and set them back on a path to respectability.
The problem is, Mississippi State
plays in the Southeastern Conference, where the amount of time a team has to
catch it’s breath between games is approximately the amount of time between the
full-time whistle on a Saturday night, and the unlocking of the weight room
doors on a Monday morning.
After opening the 2004 season with
three straight road games – and losing two – the Bulldogs now head on the road
to play an LSU team still smarting from a one-point loss to Auburn, and then to
Nashville, Tenn., to play a Vanderbilt team that led Ole Miss for minutes in
Oxford, Miss., before losing in overtime.
The Tigers looked plain awful in
all facets of the game in Auburn, but really only have issues in three
main areas. Unfortunately, those areas are offense, defense, and special teams.
Once again the team failed to convert a point-after attempt, but this time it
cost them the game – the completion of a cosmic circle started by Oregon State’s maligned freshman place kicker
On paper, LSU should be
heavily-favored to beat a Mississippi State team that is finding new ways to
redefine the term ‘cellar-dweller’ on a weekly basis. While the Tigers are
finding extra points to be their Achilles heel, the Bulldogs are struggling to
simply find points. Any points.
In addition to the missed 32-yard
field goal against Maine, Mississippi State did not even attempt a field goal from Auburn’s 30-yard line
during one drive against the Tigers, electing instead to punt the ball away. The
maroon and white have been able to string drives together, but haven’t been able
to cross the goal line when it matters – a fact reinforced by Saturday night’s
If the Bulldogs hope to be
competitive against LSU, they will have to find character from somewhere – and
they would do well to look in a different location than the one they chose to
use after getting blown out by Auburn.
As for LSU, for the second time in
four weeks the Tigers are gifted a soft opponent to try and iron out the kinks
with, and in theory should use Mississippi State as a glorified training run, much like they did
But after Georgia was taken to the
wire by Marshall, Ole Miss was taken to the wire by Vanderbilt, and the Bulldogs
lost to an average school from a lower division, it is apparent that this is a
season in which absolutely anything can happen, and no win is
That, after all, is why they play
the game, isn’t it?