Like many people, I have used the last few weeks as a time for reflection – both personal and professional.
One of the things I’ve thought about was how much Mississippi State underachieved on the football field the past two seasons. Yes, the Bulldogs went to back-to-back bowl games and won the Battle for the Golden Egg both years but I believe they could’ve done much more.
Former head coach Joe Moorhead posted a 14-12 record on the field for the Bulldogs before being fired in January. Some of the blame falls at his feet and I think he’d be the first to tell you that. But some circumstances were out of his control, like having 10 players suspended for eight games during the 2019 season.
I’ll briefly break down seven games I think MSU could’ve or should’ve won over the past two seasons:
- Sept. 22, 2018 – at Kentucky, 28-7
This was the first loss of the Moorhead era and the first indication that the Bulldogs’ offense may have some major malfunctions. Kentucky held Mississippi State to just 201 yards that day (56 rushing, 145 passing) but it was still a 14-7 game entering the fourth quarter. That’s when the Bulldogs’ defense finally broke after being on the field for most of the night. State held the Wildcats to just 71 passing yards and one interception but also committed 16 penalties for 139 yards.
- Sept. 29, 2018 – vs. Florida, 13-6
This game was the one that really drew the ire of Bulldog fans, losing to former coach Dan Mullen and failing to find the end zone in front of a capacity crowd.
The field goal fest featured one touchdown on a trick play and that’s all the Gators needed to take the lead for good. MSU had just 202 yards that day (104 rushing, 98 passing).
Oct. 20, 2018 – at LSU, 19-3
Nick Fitzgerald fired an interception on the opening drive of the game, which was returned to the 3-yard line. It took the Tigers three plays to score from there and would be the only TD the Bulldogs would allow all game. But it was more than enough as Fitzgerald finished that game completing 8 of 24 passes for 59 yards and four picks.
Jan. 1, 2019 – Outback Bowl vs. Iowa, 27-22
This is one where Mississippi State snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Bulldogs’ defense did their part, only surrendering 199 yards (75 of which came on one play). Iowa scored 17 points off State turnovers, including the Bulldogs’ first and only fumble of the season. Stephen Guidry couldn’t keep his balance at the 1 after making a 51-yard catch and MSU failed to score on three-straight runs afterwards. In the fourth quarter, Guidry couldn’t grab the go-ahead touchdown and the ball bounced off his hands and into the arms of a Hawkeye defender in the end zone.
Sept. 14, 2019 – vs. Kansas State, 31-24
Despite injuring his shoulder the week prior, Tommy Stevens tried to play through but probably should’ve sat this one out. Stevens completed only 7 of 15 passes for 100 yards and threw two picks. Garrett Shrader tried to right the ship off the bench and had 82 yards and a touchdown rushing but also struggled to throw, hitting just 4 of 12 attempts for 51 yards.
Oct. 12, 2019 – at Tennessee, 20-10
This is a game that the Bulldogs’ can’t use all those suspensions as an excuse. State was at full strength for this one and another instance where Stevens struggled (6 of 11, 67 yards, 2 INTs) along with the offensive line, which surrendered seven sacks. Tennessee was downtrodden at 1-4 entering this game but continued to gain confidence with each sputtering drive the Bulldogs had. The Vols finally delivered the knockout blow with a 39-yard TD with 2:35 remaining.
Dec. 30, 2019 – Music City Bowl vs. Louisville, 38-28
The Music City Bowl was very reminiscent of the Outback Bowl the year prior. Mississippi State seemed to have all the momentum early on but allowed the Cardinals to score 31 unanswered points in a comeback win. Injuries and a depleted secondary played a huge part in this loss but this was also the same Louisville team that surrendered 517 rushing yards to Kentucky in its previous game, one in which the Wildcats only threw twice.
MSU now has a clean slate with another offensive guru as its head coach in Mike Leach. Time will tell if Leach can prevent another season of underachievement for the Bulldogs.