By JOEL COLEMAN
Finally, the Bulldogs can breathe again.
Ever since Mississippi State lost to South Alabama in the season opener, State spent a week longing for the chance to make amends. Following Saturday’s 27-14 win over South Carolina, MSU personnel couldn’t contain their exuberance as they celebrated a victory the team felt it had to have.
“After the ballgame, there were big smiles everywhere,” senior defensive lineman A.J. Jefferson said. “From the coaches to the players to the equipment managers and trainers, it seemed like something that everybody wanted to do, just win. It’s a great feeling.”
The groundwork for Saturday was laid in the previous six days. Players talked of how practice was different leading up to the South Carolina game.
Head coach Dan Mullen led that charge. He, too, disliked what he saw against South Alabama. As the school’s head man, he knew it was on him to fix it.
“It’s on me to set the standard,” Mullen said. “We have a lot of young guys and we are looking for leaders in our program. If I don’t have a desperate intensity, how can I expect them to have it? I want to make sure they know how hard we have to go.”
The veterans joined Mullen in rallying the troops. Senior linebacker Richie Brown, who led the Bulldogs with 10 tackles on Saturday to go along with two tackles for loss and a sack, said he took ownership of picking his team up throughout the week.
“Obviously the coaches can lead a little bit, but if you don’t have leadership from within, then what’s it worth?” Brown said. “You have to have guys inside the program echoing the things your coaches are saying and the coaches echoing the players. It has to come from within.”
The renewed focus of the Bulldogs paid dividends against the Gamecocks. By halftime, State already led 24-0. A half of football later and MSU was a victor. Strangely enough, Brown thinks the Bulldogs might owe the South Alabama Jaguars a thank you for the tough lesson they taught the week prior.
“(The South Alabama loss) was kind of a wake-up call for us maybe,” Brown said. “I think we kind of transformed this week in how we practice and prepare. I think it might have been a blessing in disguise to help us prepare for teams like this that we have to be prepared for.”
State can’t afford to let its foot off the gas with a matchup with LSU looming this Saturday, but the Bulldogs can now rest a little easier with a win under their collective belt.
MSU felt coming into the season it had a good football team. Saturday, that was finally reinforced.
“(Saturday) is who we’ve been since I’ve been here as a head coach,” Mullen said. “This team plays with unbelievable passion and 11 guys playing as hard as they can when the ball snaps. I do not know if I saw that (against South Alabama).”