2 things Mississippi State needs to improve on for the Belk Bowl
Mississippi State may not have played a football game in a month but, thankfully, that ends on Wednesday. The Bulldogs are heading to Charlotte, N.C., to take on the NC State Wolfpack on Dec. 30. And although Christmas will have come and gone by then, there are a few gifts Dan Mullen and his team can give Mississippi State fans to cap off a wonderful year.
Two games in particular come to mind when discussing Mississippi State’s consistency this season, and they aren’t great. Against Arkansas, Mississippi State led 31-21 at halftime and looked poised to blow out the Razorbacks on the road. But a drastically different team came out of the locker room at halftime. Uncharacteristic turnovers and lackluster defense not only let Arkansas back into the game, but forfeited the Bulldogs’ lead. Luckily, the team that had pummeled the Razorbacks in the first half showed up in the fourth quarter and managed to retake the lead. But were it not for a blocked field goal, the third-quarter meltdown would have cost Mississippi State the game.
Against Ole Miss, the Bulldogs suffered another anomaly of a quarter. Prescott fumbled on the team’s opening drive, then threw a pick-six and Mississippi State found itself down 21-0 in the first quarter. It was unlike any other opening quarter of football the team had played this year, and even though the Bulldogs mounted a comeback, the hole they dug themselves in the first 15 minutes proved too deep.
If Mullen wants to come out of Charlotte with the Belk Bowl trophy, he’ll need to make sure his team doesn’t decide to take a quarter off again.
Find a running game:
There was one aspect of Mississippi State’s game that was quite consistent all year, however — the failure to produce a rushing attack. Mississippi State averaged 140.3 yards per game on the ground, good for 12th in the SEC and 103rd in the nation. Part of that can be chalked up to the team having the fewest rushing attempts in the conference (an average of almost 33 attempts per game, compared to Tennessee’s SEC-leading 47 per game), but it wasn’t like Mullen was hiding any noteworthy talent at the position.
It wasn’t clear last year how much Josh Robinson leaving Starkville for the NFL would affect the Bulldogs. But midway through this season, it became evident the team was missing him dearly. Mullen asked the dual-threat Prescott to build consistency with his arm, while relying on his legs less often, and the corps of Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert, Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee couldn’t pick up the slack. The four backs combined for three touchdowns on the year.
Prescott certainly upped his passing game in his senior campaign, but without any other threats in the backfield, the Heisman finalist has been unable to take the Bulldogs’ offense back to the same level it reached last season.