By JOEL COLEMAN
For the second consecutive year, Mississippi State battled Alabama with sights set on being the Southeastern Conference Western Division champion. Once again, the Crimson Tide trampled the high aspirations of the Bulldogs.
After falling 25-20 last year in Tuscaloosa, Mississippi State lost 31-6 to Alabama on Saturday to end all hopes of MSU’s first trip to the league title game since 1998.
Even had MSU won on Saturday, several dominoes would have had to fall just right the rest of the season for the Bulldogs to represent the SEC West in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome next month. Now, none of those scenarios even matter.
MSU reported to preseason camp back in August with the goal of winning a championship. With that now off the table, what’s next for these Bulldogs?
“We’ve still got a lot left to play for,” Mississippi State safety Kivon Coman said. “We’re 7-3. We can still get a good bowl game. If we can continue and just handle our business like we should and win our bowl game, we’d have the same 10-3 record we had last year. If we do our jobs, everything will take care of itself.”
The first remaining obstacle for the Bulldogs will be the Arkansas Razorbacks next weekend in Fayetteville. Arkansas has won four games in a row, most recently upsetting LSU 31-14 on the road Saturday.
Perhaps the biggest challenge next week though won’t be the massive Arkansas offensive line or the rest of the talent on the Razorback roster. MSU’s toughest hurdle might just be overcoming the disappointment of losing again to the Crimson Tide.
“We can’t let this loss determine who we are as a team,” MSU receiver Fred Ross said. “We’ve just got to keep moving.”
Ross wasn’t the only MSU player to mention moving on following Saturday’s defeat. The Bulldogs know that no one is going to feel sorry for them in the weeks to come so the only thing there is to do is go back to work.
“We just keep fighting,” running back Brandon Holloway said. “Our life is around relentless effort so this (loss) is not going to change anything for us.”
Linebacker Beniquez Brown echoed those sentiments.
“We’ve got to just come back and get better every week,” Brown said. “That’s been our motto all season. We try and make sure we’re better next week than we were this week. We never quit. We make sure we finish. That’s how we work out and train to make sure we continue to press and play the whole season from beginning to the end.”
If Brown gets his way, it won’t take long for MSU to wash away the sting of losing to Alabama.
On a larger scale, the Bulldogs would love to distance themselves from the on and off the field struggles of the last week.
It was a trying nine days for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs experienced the tragic deaths of defensive lineman Keith Joseph Jr. and his father and former MSU linebacker Keith Joseph Sr. in a car accident on Nov. 5. The memorial service for the two was held at Humphrey Coliseum on Thursday.
On the heels of personal loss, here came the Crimson Tide who spoiled the championship dreams of the Bulldogs.
“It was a pretty long week for us,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “It’s over, but here’s the thing – the guys in the locker room, all the freshmen, they’ve still got to go back to the dorm room and one of their family members isn’t going to be there. So that’s not just this week. That’s something that’s going to be there for a long time. Unfortunately a tragic loss doesn’t just end because you played a football game. “
As rough as things have been for Mississippi State lately, quarterback Dak Prescott is planning on brighter days ahead.
“We can’t be down on this too long,” Prescott said. “We’ve had a tough week as a team but we’ve got to continue to get better and find a way to move on and be better next weekend.”
Prescott said nothing that happened on Saturday changes MSU’s roadmap for the immediate future. No, there won’t be any championship rings won in his final season as a Bulldog, but earning a good postseason destination would be a nice consolation prize.
“We’ve still got to win out,” Prescott said “That was our plan regardless of what (Saturday’s) result was. We’ve got the chance to play a good bowl game so we can make sure it’s a bowl we want to play in.”