After tough sledding, Bulldogs look to rebound

Mississippi State fans don’t need many reasons to send the
decibel level skyrocketing with their beloved cowbells, but the clang you’ve
been hearing lately is the Bulldogs’ season hitting rock bottom.

They’ve lost three straight games and have dropped out of
the BCS top-25, ruining a 7-0 start during which they were barely tested.

Only the ultimate optimist would have given Mississippi
State a chance to defeat Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU in consecutive weeks, but
the Bulldogs were blown out by the Crimson Tide, weren’t competitive against
the Aggies and let the score get out of hand late in last week’s loss in Baton
Rouge.

“It’s called the Southeastern Conference,” coach Dan Mullen
said on a teleconference. “I’ve seen it before as a head coach. I’ve seen it
plenty as an assistant coach. And I’ve seen it sitting and watching other
people play before we go play on a Saturday afternoon. … You want to play
against the best, and that’s what you have here in the Southeastern
Conference.”

Yes, the SEC is tough.

Alabama was No. 1 when it routed the Bulldogs 38-7 on Oct.
27, and Texas A&M jumped out to a 24-point lead in its 38-13 win. But
Mississippi State’s players pointed to small mistakes that turned a three-point
deficit into a 37-17 loss last week.

“We might lose lack of focus for one second. That’s what
happens in football,” cornerback Corey Broomfield said. “You lose focus for one
play and it ends up being a touchdown. It’s magnified a thousand times. If you’re
playing a top-10 team in the nation, you can’t let that happen.”

Part of Mississippi State’s struggles can be linked to the
health of running back LaDarius Perkins. He’s been bothered by a quad injury
and missed last week’s loss at LSU.

As a result of his injury and the level of competition, the
Bulldogs have rushed for just 192 yards in the past three games, or 64 yards a
game. Perkins rushed for just 38 yards against Alabama and 42 vs. Texas
A&M, but has 804 yards and eight touchdowns for the year and keeps opposing
defenses from focusing on quarterback Tyler Russell.

“(Perkins has) had a really good season for us, but you
expect that with an older guy coming in,” Mullen said. “He waited his turn. He
was a role player and that rotating back for the last two years and now he gets
to come in and be the guy. So, he’s had a really good year for us. … We expect
him to play on Saturday.”

Arkansas (4-6, 2-4), Saturday’s opponent, should help the
Bulldogs reach the eighth victory that has eluded them the past three weeks.
Only 15 other teams in school history have won at least eight games, but it’s
happened seven times since 1981.

This year’s group of seniors experienced a nine-win season
in 2010 and will become only the second senior class in school history to play
in three straight bowl games.

Though Russell isn’t one of those seniors, the junior
quarterback continues to close in on individual school records. Russell has already
set the school’s single-season mark with 17 touchdown passes and is just 173
yards shy from the school record for passing yards in a season. He has 2,249
career yards after setting his career high with 295 yards and 26 completions
against LSU.

But with the good also comes the bad. Last week, LSU’s Craig
Loston returned a Russell interception 100 yards for the final score with 1:13
remaining.

“We’ve had some bad breaks the past couple of games and made
some mistakes, but we’re correcting those mistakes,” Russell said. “I think the
attitude at practice is high, really good. We’re just trying to finish the
season out strong.”