Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
UP NEXT ARKANSAS AT MISSISSIPPI STATE:
Bulldogs (7-3) need 2nd wind
Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen (right), whose team is 7-3, says it’s important to focus on the bigger picture after each week’s game. “Every situation is extremely unique,” Mullen said.
FAYETTEVILLE It’s been a streaky football season for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3 SEC) have lost three in a row heading into Saturday’s game against Arkansas (4-6, 2-6) at Scott Field after opening the season with seven consecutive victories.
Once ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings and No. 13 in The Associated Press poll, the Bulldogs have fallen out of the top 25 after last week’s 37-17 loss at LSU.
But the Bulldogs’ winning and losing streaks shouldn’t be a surprise considering how their schedule breaks down. Their first seven opponents had a combined 22-37 record, including 6-4 by Football Championship Subdivision foe Jackson State and 6-3 by Middle Tennessee with Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee at 7-23. Their three losses have been to teams among the top eight in the BCS standings - No. 4 Alabama, No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 7 LSU - who are a combined 25-5.
Now Mississippi State gets to finish against Arkansas and Ole Miss, which is 5-5. If the Bulldogs are 9-3 going into a bowl game, it will be their most regular season victories since 1999 when they were 9-2.
“Every situation is extremely unique,” said Dan Mullen, who has a 28-20 record in his fourth season as Mississippi State’s coach. “As you look at this team, we’re 7-3. Obviously, it’s very different than being 3-7 right now and trying to get the team up.”
Mullen said he gets back to the “bigger picture” with his players of analyzing each game and why the Bulldogs won or lost.
“If we had started 1-3 and won six in a row, or started 7-0 and lost three in a row, how does it all break down?” he said. “I think none of that really has an effect.
“You’ve got to come out, you’ve got to play and you’ve got to execute on Saturday. If you don’t do that, then there’s not going to be a surprise with the outcome. There was no surprise on Saturday night [at LSU].
“We played hard, we did a lot of good things, we moved the ball, we stopped them at times, we made critical errors.”
Mississippi State trailed 30-17 in the fourth quarter and twice moved inside the LSU 15 with chances to pull within six points, but was stopped on downs, then Craig Loston intercepted a Tyler Russell pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown with 1:13 left.
“We score a touchdown with a minute to go, we’re onside kicking down six,” Mullen said, lamenting what might have been. “Come up with the ball and you’re looking at a score to win the game.
“Instead it comes out to be I guess what is like a blowout loss. That’s how small the margin of error is in this league. And I think our guys understand ... the detail that we need, because there are a lot of things in that game, little things if we corrected we would have put ourselves in an opportunity to win it. So as a staff we’ve got to make sure we’re cleaner.”
It’s possible that junior running back LaDarius Perkins, who missed the LSU game because of a quadriceps injury, will return for Arkansas. Perkins has rushed 153 times for 804 yards and 8 touchdowns.
“Obviously, when you’re dealing with a muscle injury you never know, but I feel pretty good,” Mullen said. “He’s pretty adamant he’s playing this week. We’ll see with the training report how close he’ll get.”
Russell, a junior, has completed 182 of 301 passes for 2,249 yards and a school record 17 touchdowns and thrown 4 interceptions. Senior Chad Bumphis has a school-record 20 career touchdown catches, including eight this season.
Senior cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay have four interceptions each to share the SEC lead with Tennessee’s Bryon Moore.
The senior class will be honored Saturday before the Bulldogs’ final home game. It will be Mississippi State’s first senior class to go to three consecutive bowl games.
“These are the first guys that believed in what we were trying to do here,” Mullen said. “They’ll leave as one of the most successful classes in school history. Not only did they believe, but followed through on it as well.”
Sports, Pages 15 on 11/13/2012