Take a deep breath, Mississippi State.
Yes, you just lost to a team that joined major college football earlier this decade. You blew it by missing a point-blank field goal. Your coach decided to wear shorts during all of this.
But before the rest of the SEC writes you off as a cellar dweller, remember: You have the pieces in place to pull off a couple upsets of your own.
Mississippi State has been trying to sort out a three-man quarterback battle since the spring (Grade-point averages and rock-paper-scissors have been used as tiebreakers at various times. Seriously.)
Saturday, Dan Mullen appeared to find his starting quarterback.
Damian Williams took over early for an ineffective Nick Fitzgerald (0-for-3) and promptly led the Bulldogs to a 17-0 halftime lead. The offense sputtered at times in the second half, but those two missed field goals came at the end of Williams drives.
He was calm in his execution of the Bulldogs’ misdirection offense. He made throws moving to his left and to his right. He didn’t turn the ball over.
Final line: 20-of-28 for 143 yards (plus a score) and an extra 93 yards on the ground.
And there are a couple of All-SEC candidates — Fred Ross and Brandon Holloway — that helped move the ball along.
The biggest problem vs. South Alabama was the defense. Opposing quarterback Dallas Davis moved the ball at will, racking up 308 yards of total offense and directing the Jaguars to 21 second-half points. Holes were everywhere in the passing game and at the line of scrimmage, and they all added up to a slow Bulldogs death.
But there is reason for optimism on the defensive side of the ball, too.
An unbelievable amount of missed tackles — including one by defensive captain Richie Brown at the opposing goal line — stung Mississippi State in the second half. That’s not something that will be replicated on a weekly basis. And while the defensive backfield was a letdown, the Bulldogs still feature a strong pass rush led by A.J. Jefferson and 5-star recruit Jeffery Simmons, who was suspended for Saturday’s game.
It will be tough to write any columns about Mississippi State in 2016 without mentioning Dak Prescott, the record-setting former Bulldogs passer who is now set to start for the Dallas Cowboys.
But Williams might be able to change that with consistent performances in the coming weeks. Any team that overlooks the Bulldogs based on Saturday’s upset loss would be wise to think twice.