Yogi was Right
It was not to be Mississippi State’s night in Starkville Saturday. In the infamous words of Yogi Berra, it was déjà vu all over again. Reminiscent of the loss to LSU 41-14, the Bulldogs fell short losing to Alabama 40-17. For their sake, this is a pattern they surely don’t want to repeat going forward.
This was the 16th straight time the Tide has beaten the Dawgs. It was also the end of a streak, State playing Bama consecutively since 1948. In 2024, the two don’t play due to an SEC schedule change. It was devised by the conference to accommodate the addition of Texas and Oklahoma.
The 60-thousand-plus crowd in Davis-Wade stadium was a raucous bunch, cowbells deafening before and during the beginning of the first quarter. But they would shortly be silenced as a series of turnovers and offensive plays by the Crimson Tide pushed them ahead very early in the game.
Things Looked Bright at First
Alabama took the opening kickoff and State’s defense looked like they would set the tone. Linebacker Jett Johnson sacked Bama quarterback Jalen Milroe on the second play from scrimmage. Then, following another play, defensive lineman Donterry Russell sacked Milroe again. The Tide were forced to punt. They were forced to punt on their next possession as well. In some spots, Alabama seemed rattled, but the momentum-change was palpable.
It Didn’t Take Long
The Bulldogs taking possession, turned those bright spots dark as they went three and out on their first three turns with the ball. Then Alabama started taking over.
Milroe took the ball 53 yards for a touchdown, on the ground, and the pattern was set. He ended the game with 11 carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
Bama further took the wind out of the Bulldogs’ sails on their third possession. Linebacker Chris Braswell intercepted Bulldog quarterback Will Rogers’ pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Braswell would run that back 28 yards for a touchdown. The Tide led the game 14-0 with just under five minutes left in the first quarter. Rogers would be intercepted two more times. This was only the second time he got intercepted three times. Ironically, the other time was against Alabama.
Head coach Zach Arnett has a knack for stating the obvious. “Turnovers are critical to this game,” Arnett said after this one. “They are gigantic momentum-shifting plays.”
Was it Close?
There were times when the Dawgs looked like they might make a comeback against the No. 12 team in the nation. In the second quarter, a 15-yard run by backup quarterback Mike Wright brought them within seven points. The score was 17-10. But the Tide scored two more unanswered times to end the half 31-10.
Despite offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay calling the game in the press box, they couldn’t seem to get anything going consistently on the field. At South Carolina last week, the offense tallied over 500 yards. This week, it didn’t seem to matter where he was calling the game. The offense only got 261 total yards.
The other puzzlement is the use or non-use of Mike “Mr. Wright” Wright. Every time he comes into a game, he seems to make a difference. He has scored a touchdown in the last two games. Yet, in this game, he only ran the ball three times for 19 yards. But one of those was the touchdown that brought them closer to the Tide. It might behoove Barbay to utilize Wright more often. The fans believe that too.
There Were Some Bright Spots
Yes, the Dawgs had some standout moments, albeit fleeting and sporadic. On defense, it wasn’t necessarily sporadic. Linebackers Johnson and Bookie Watson continued their quest to become the leading tacklers of the SEC, again. Johnson had 14 tackles, three solo, one sack, and one-and-a-half for a loss. Watson came up with 12 tackles, two solo, half a sack, and one for a loss
On offense, the indestructible Woody Marks led the rushing for the Dawg, with nine carries and 68 yards. He repeatedly left the game with what seemed to be a leg injury. But the very next series he would be back on the field making an amazing run. Barbay has called him the toughest Dawg on the field.
Barbay took advantage of more of his stable of running backs in this game, running and receiving. Jeffery Pittman took more of the stage just behind Marks in rushing. He also led receiving with two receptions for 23 yards. If that is leading the receiving stat, that should tell you how the game went. Bama was evidently keying on the main wide receiver Tulu Griffin. He ended up fifth in receiving with five receptions and 21 yards. Last week he set a record for most receiving yards in a single game.
How’s the Coach Handling This?
For a team that prides itself in defense, they have been absent, especially in conference play. The exceptions are the players Johnson and Watson. But, the 3-3-5 defense the Bulldogs have on the field isn’t working this season.
This is the third time Mississippi State has been burned by a quarterback on the ground. Although non-conference, Arizona’s Jayden de Laura led rushing with eight carries, 44 yards, and one touchdown. LSU’s Jayden Daniels ran 15 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Now you have Milroe also taking on the Dawgs with his amazing performance.
Arnett, in his post-game interview, had praise for Milroe. “He’s a really good athlete. Broken play for a touchdown off a fumbled snap. He’s done that in another game too. He’s a big physical athlete,” Arnett said. And what about things going forward? “We need to go 3-0 in October,” Arnett said. “That’s the only thing we’re focused on right now. Prepare for the next game. And we have an opportunity to play a quality football team, hopefully execute better, and win. You’re not very happy in this sport when you lose. Feel better? Better win.”
But in the end, Arnett in his typical fashion took the blame. “Poor job of game management by the coach,” Arnett said. “Should have taken a knee, come out after halftime down 14 instead of going down 21. Poor job by the head coach.”
Next Week It’s Non-Conference
Week six for the Bulldogs has them back at Davis-Wade facing Western Michigan. It’s an early game at 11:00 a.m. central time. The game can be seen on the SEC Network. Perhaps the Bulldogs can lick their wounds from facing Alabama and pull out a victory. It would be good to lift their spirits and for the fans. They need to look to the future conference games too.
In terms of what is in front of them, Rogers was a bit philosophical in his post-game press conference. “The future is in front of us. The ball is kind of in our court. You can handle this situation two ways. You can sulk and go hide in a corner or you can learn from it, get better and come out swinging. is what I intend to do.”