Lopsided loss to Georgia humbles No. 24 Mississippi State
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State’s last two games have produced dramatically different results.
Now the program gets its third opportunity in three weeks to knock off a nationally ranked team to prove whether it’s among the Southeastern Conference’s best.
The Bulldogs looked nearly unstoppable in a dominant 37-7 win over LSU less than two weeks ago , spawning chatter among fans and analysts that they might be the second-best team in the SEC. But the success was short lived – they couldn’t do anything right in a sobering 31-3 loss to Georgia last weekend .
No. 24 Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC) is preparing for another difficult challenge when it travels to face No. 13 Auburn (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday. The Tigers are coming off an impressive 51-14 win over Missouri last weekend.
For Mississippi State, the LSU and Georgia games are proof that a wide variety of outcomes are possible.
”If we play really, really well, we’ve got a great chance to win,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. ”If we play poorly, we’ve got a great chance to lose. That’s kind of the message to the guys – it’s not a panic.”
Mississippi State’s offense sputtered against Georgia, especially in the passing game. Nick Fitzgerald completed just 14 of 29 passes for 83 yards and two interceptions.
The Bulldogs aren’t a team that needs big passing numbers to win games, but the complete lack of a vertical passing game made the offense one-dimensional and ineffective.
In the LSU win, Fitzgerald completed 15 of 23 passes for 180 yards, including two touchdown passes that went for 45 and 20 yards. That was enough passing production to open up space for a running game that earned 285 yards.
Fitzgerald said the LSU game is a blueprint for future success.
”We didn’t have to get huge chunks at a time, we were consistently moving the ball five or 10 yards,” Fitzgerald said.
Mississippi State has a pretty good idea of its on-field formula for success. Now the Bulldogs are trying to deal with the mental whiplash from the past two weeks.
Mullen said it’s important for his team to establish some equilibrium and understand that things are never as good or bad as they seem after a big win or loss.
”You’re somewhere in the middle and you’re honestly just trying to improve and get better from week to week,” Mullen said. ”You’re really as good as your last play or going to be as good as your next play.”
Fitzgerald said the team didn’t have a great week of practice before the Georgia game and needs to get back to its demeanor before the LSU game, when the team was hungry and feeling disrespected after being picked to finish near the bottom of the league.
”Maybe we thought we were a little bit better than we were,” Fitzgerald said. ”Maybe we got lackadaisical at times. I felt we weren’t really mentally locked in at practice. That’s going to change.”
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .