Meridian Star


September 17, 2013

State looking to stop slide

STARKVILLE —  The losing continues for Mississippi State, which now finds itself in an extended slide.

    The Bulldogs have lost seven of nine games dating back to last season, including Saturday's 24-20 loss to Auburn. It's been a humbling and frustrating stretch for a program that has been to three straight bowl games under fifth-year coach Dan Mullen.

    Now Mullen is trying to address a myriad of issues on both sides of the ball.

    The offense has been inconsistent all season and quarterback Tyler Russell has missed the past two games because of a concussion sustained against Oklahoma State. Injuries in the secondary have forced the Bulldogs to use several young players, and that inexperience has led to occasional breakdowns.

    One of those came when Auburn's Nick Marshall threw an 11-yard game-winning touchdown pass with 10 seconds left on Saturday.

    But Mullen says there is still plenty of hope. Mississippi State (1-2) hosts Troy (2-1) on Saturday in a non-conference game.

    "It's never as good and it's never as bad as it seems," Mullen said. "If we made one play in that (Auburn) game, it looks like we have all the answers. We're jumping up and down, patting ourselves on the back."

    But the Bulldogs didn't make that play, which has been a recurring theme during the losing skid. Mississippi State is almost always competitive, but isn't winning the crucial plays at crucial moments.

    Mullen knows only one way to get that fixed.

    "We've got to get back to work," Mullen said. "Hopefully we come out with a chip on our shoulder. To be successful, you have to respond to that type of loss with that desperate desire to get back on the field and work harder."

    One major issue: Mississippi State's offense has scored just 23 combined points in two games against FBS opponents. It's easy to point to Russell's absence as the cause, but backup Dak Prescott has often played well in relief.

    If Russell returns, Mullen will have to make some interesting decisions.

    Russell set a school record with 2,897 passing yards and 24 touchdowns last season, but Prescott gives the Bulldogs a better running option. Mullen didn't commit to either quarterback during Monday's weekly press conference.

    Offensive coordinator Les Koenning said Prescott's poise against Auburn was impressive.

    "I thought he made some excellent decisions," Koenning said. "The kid rushed for 133 yards and threw for 213. He might have had one of two things that went wrong with him, but as a whole, in an environment like that, he was under control and knew what was coming up. I was pleased with his performance. It just comes down to a couple of plays."

    Mullen said Mississippi State's offense might be relying a bit too much on Prescott. Senior LaDarius Perkins, who rushed for 1,024 yards last season, has just 86 rushing yards so far this season in two games.

    "We want to make sure our playmakers are touching the ball," Mullen said.

    On defense, Mississippi State will have several good plays overshadowed by one or two disasters. That happened against Auburn when Mississippi State cornerback Justin Cox went the wrong way in pass coverage and then fell down while trying to recover, allowing Auburn's Quan Bray to score an easy 76-yard touchdown.

    Cox is in his first season at the FBS level after transferring for junior college. He's one of many first-year players who are playing a significant role so far this season.

    The growing pains are difficult. But players say they see improvement.

    "I think everyone is going to be really good once we get it all figured out," freshman linebacker Richie Brown said.


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