It’s not much fun being a fan of Mississippi State these days. In every game of the last few weeks, there has been hope that a victory would be in the offing, but to no avail. The Arkansas victory started that hope, following losses to South Carolina, Alabama, and LSU. But this was Homecoming in Starkville. The 1998 SEC Western Division Champs were being honored. Kentucky hadn’t won at Davis-Wade since 2008. Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops had never won in Davis-Wade. The table was set for a feast for the Dawgs. Still, they couldn’t muster more than three points as the Bulldogs dropped Homecoming to the Wildcats 24-3. Kentucky became bowl-eligible, but State is still two games away.
Injuries have plagued State, especially in the last three weeks. However, there has been nothing more glaring than the injury to veteran record-breaking quarterback Will Rogers and dual-threat running back Woody Marks. A lot of hope went into the Vandy transfer Mike Wright picking up for Rogers. He vanquished the Wildcats last year as quarterback for the Commodores, but couldn’t muster more than 11 for 21, 78 yards, and one interception (a pick-six) passing against Kentucky. His long-regarded running ability only saw him run 11 times for 20 yards. On top of that, the defense is settling into some unsettling patterns.
Defense is Played for Four Quarters
In the previous game at Auburn, State fans saw their defense give up 24 points in the first half, only to allow three in the second. In this Kentucky game, history repeated itself. The Cats offense scored 21 points in the first half, only to muster three in the second. What is behind this pattern, only the coaching staff knows at this point, but they’re not talking.
Granted, seven of the 24 points Kentucky scored were based on a pick-six handed up by Wright, but what of the other 17? These were the comments from head coach Zach Arnett following the Auburn game. “You can’t win a football game playing a half of football,” Arnett said. “I appreciate the guys’ efforts in the second half, but I’m not particularly interested in moral victories. We’ve struggled to put a full game together all year, and that’s my fault.” Following the Kentucky game, there was no discussion of the defense. One can guess, any comments would be redundant to those from the Auburn game.
Now Playing at Quarterback…
The mystery surrounding the quarterback position has potentially wearied the fans and media to the question. Who is the starting quarterback? With Rogers injured, it fell to Wright who woefully did not produce. In fact, the three games he started, showed only two touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay finally brought out the true freshman everyone had talked about all week, Chris Parson. He was a four-star recruit and a leader who kept the signing class together following Mike Leach’s death. Barbay brought him into the Kentucky game late in the third quarter to get some life into the offense. Parson didn’t disappoint, throwing a 34-yard pass to Tulu Griffin, starting an optimistic series. He eventually took the Bulldogs inside the Wildcat red zone, as close as the three-yard line. But penalties and a rookie mistake on an intentional grounding penalty, saw the Dawgs with fourth and 20, with 5:58 left in the game. The Dawgs went for it and turned it over on downs. They would not get back that close again.
Arnett had nothing but praise for the pup Parson, but he might have been looking to the future. “I think he did a really good job when he came in,” Arnett said. “He pushed the ball down the field. His stat line – he had a couple of drops in there – he’s close to a hundred yards passing. He has some mobility too. He keeps plays alive when things start to break down. He’ll learn a lot from this film. But very pleased with his competitiveness. And he provided a little spark…and energy picked up.” Where this leaves the Bulldogs going into Texas A&M next week is anyone’s guess. Be prepared for more drama.
It Was Homecoming After All
Mississippi State spoiled the Arkansas homecoming, winning that game 7-3. This loss gave the Bulldog fans a sense of what it’s like to lose these kinds of games. Arnett recognized that having the 1998 SEC West Champs there, plus all the normal homecoming pageantry, the loss was a major letdown. I’m disappointed the fans didn’t have a better outcome to celebrate,” Arnett said. “They do a tremendous job showing up and supporting the players.”
The Dawgs are on the brink of ending a 13-year tradition of going to a bowl game. There are only three games left. They go to College State for Texas A&M. Southern Mississippi is at home, and then the Egg Bowl, this year in Starkville.
It’s evident that the offense isn’t nearly as effective without Rogers. And to that end, the 4-year starter is clamoring to be back in time for the Egg Bowl. Arnett is hopeful, but not making any promises. “I think he’s progressed really well,” Arnett said. “He’s practicing. I have no doubt he has the grit and determination to play in that game (Ole Miss). I know he wants to play before that too. I’m not qualified to make that call. When doctors say he’s available, he’ll be in there.’
Realistically speaking, a Texas A&M win is probably a pipe dream. A win at home against Southern Miss. is no gimme but within the realm of possibilities. Then, there comes the Egg Bowl. Ole Miss has a formidable team this year, but this is the game that is anyone’s guess, every year. As far as Arnett is concerned, he has faith. “I’m confident our guys are going to come to work,” Arnett said. “They’re plenty talented enough to be in every game.” Stay tuned for the A&M preview and more drama to come.