Quickly though you may want to turn your attention away from the 107th meeting of Mississippi State and Ole Miss (and particularly the second and third quarters of that game), we need to exorcise some demons.
After the first quarter, I turned to my compatriots, Ghost and the_drake, and wistfully commented that our defense was playing well enough to win the game. State first four drives resulted in punt, punt, fumble, and turnover on downs with just two first downs and 56 offensive yards. Then, the wheels came off, as State scored twin touchdowns on drives of 88 and 82 yards. Just before the second half, State turned the ball over on downs, but neither that turnover nor a second-quarter interception yielded points. The third quarter began with Ole MIss fumbling and punting twice, leading to a touchdown and a field goal by the Maroons. At this point, the score was 31-9, and the Rebels were giving up hope.
Defensively, the Rebels were led by Cornell, Shackelford, and Powe, who combined for 27 tackles and four tackles for loss. Those were about the only bright spots, of course. And even in that, Perkins, Chris Relf, and Vick Ballard combined for 210 rush yards. After the first quarter, there was little reason to smile when it came to defense.
After the jump, I review the game more thoroughly by answering, post hoc, the deeply analytical questions posed to us by For Whom the Cowbell Tolls.Earlier this week, our counterpart SBNation blog for Mississippi State asked us some questions about the game. They were pretty cheeky, so we responded in kind. I thought they might provide some guidance for trying to work through my expectations for this game, and how it actually turned out.
Based upon the effectiveness with which Mississippi State moved the ball, it is hard to say that having Melvin Harris would have changed the outcome of the game. Nevertheless, the Rebels did have the ball late in the game down by one score. With the game on the line like that, needing nearly ninety yards to force overtime, a team needs its leading receiver. Unfortunately, Jeremiah Masoli's arm was not as accurate against Mississippi State as it was against LSU. He was intercepted, of course, but, moreover, Masoli made a number of ill-advised passes that could have been picked off. To top it off, there were at least two occasions when Masoli attempted passes to receivers on third down that were far short of the first-down marker. All that being said, Melvin Harris draws the attention of opposing defenses, opening up opportunities for other players. It might have been due to Melvin's absence that Masoli was forced to often turn to a dump pass (more than once to Jesse Grandy), which were defended well by Mississippi State. I think it is unlikely that Harris would have made the difference in this game, but we will never know. And that is, certainly, frustrating.
"The School Up North." Ha. I see what you did there. Especially this week, we at the Cup have made our feelings about Dan Mullen perfectly clear. I recently compared and contrasted the off-field rhetoric of Mullen and Jackie Sherrill, both of whom felt the need to employ "jabs" as a tactic for rallying State's fan base. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, Mullen has been able to back up his trash talking with consecutive wins in this series.
Some Rebels might feel differently, but Mullen's success on the field does not make me hate him. He and Diaz are accomplishing big things in Starkville, and the best way for the Rebels to start beating them is to respect those accomplishments enough to put forth the effort to match or exceed them.
The trash talk is maddening, though. So, I do hate that man and want for the Rebels to thoroughly dismantle him in 2011. But I hate Jackie Wayne more. Sherrill was an unrepentant cheater, who race-baited around Mississippi for a recruiting advantage. Mullen's jabs seem merely tactical - that is to say, I am not certain that Dan Mullen finds personal pleasure in being obnoxious; it's just business. Sherrill is naturally and joyfully an asshole.
3. TSUN has underperformed this year to say the least. Is Coach Giggity on the hot seat yet or is that even a possibility when coaching up there?
Nutt's behavior and play-calling over the course of the last two games illustrates that he feels the frustration of Rebel nation. His five fourth down attempts against LSU, a fake punt against State, and some new plays (like that shovel pass to Brandon Bolden) are proof that Nutt understands just how much credibility he is losing with the fan base when he loses eight games, including both major rivals.
His seat is not "hot," though. And it has nothing to do with a defeatist attitude. It is about long-term program building. Coaches who have improved the program dramatically, as it must still be said Houston Nutt has done, earn mulligans. Giving a good coach a chance to correct his mistakes and move the program stably forward is not defeatism, it's practicality. Houston needs but to improve our defense from "epically awful" to "serviceable" and a return to winning seasons and bowl games is expected for 2011.
4. Masoli and Bolden are key players for the Rebel Black Bear offense. Which one will be the biggest factor Saturday? Masoli's arm or Bolden's legs?
5. Which loss will hurt more? Mississippi State or Jacksonville State?
The loss to Jacksonville State set the tone for this season as a cataclysmic failure. The loss to Mississippi State, though, will continue to sting, I predict, as Magnolia State recruits on whom the eyes of watchful college football fans are focused will be swayed toward Starkville by this loss. Tobias Singleton, star receiver from Madison Central, no doubt noted the huge game had by LaDarius Perkins, a strong candidate for SEC Player of the Week. Perkins has been a consistent contributor for State, coming into the game with 526 rushing yards, but he looked like a superstar against Ole Miss. That's never a good thing for the home team.
6. How many points will the TSUN Black Bears lose this game by?