When Mississippi State and Auburn square off, fans can usually expect something amazing or something bizarre to happen in the contest. Saturday night's game was one that left fans from both teams sitting on the edge of their seats in disbelief at the ending when Nick Marshall tossed a game winning touchdown with ten seconds left to play.
The Good: This has to go to the overall performance of Dak Prescott in his first SEC (and road) start of his career. On the whole of the game, Prescott looked good, going 15 for 28, picking up 213 yards. He also did a great job running the football, carrying it 22 times for 133 yards (six yards per carry) and two touchdowns. The number of carries may have been slightly high, but overall, Prescott turned in a solid performance, one that should earn him the start Saturday against Troy.
The Bad: The Bulldogs had a few key mistakes and stalls in the game that added up to defeat. Devon Bell missed what looked to be a very makeable field goal on the Bulldog's first drive, and that loomed large as the game remained close. Mississippi State also inexplicably went for two early in the contest. Those four points turned out to be the difference.
Other mishaps that stand out include a stalled offense early in the second half, and not bleeding more time on a late fourth quarter punt.
The Ugly: Any outlet for Mississippi State fans turned absolutely ugly as the night and the weekend progressed following the loss. The number of Bulldog fans (at least the number of them who took to the internet) who believe this game should serve as the prime example for a Dan Mullen pink slip shocked me.
Without a doubt, it was a heartbreaking loss, and it is very fair to say Mississippi State should have won this contest. The fact is, they outperformed Auburn most of the night, but in the end, Mississippi State played like a team trying to let Auburn lose the game instead of going out to win it. In the end, this may not be as bad as people think.
What happened Saturday night in Auburn was a good, ole-fashioned choke. The good thing about a choke is it does not happen if a team or an individual does not have the talent to win a contest. Practically anyone who as ever played sports knows the feeling of a choke. It is awful. You are aware of it, and you cannot stop it.
For those who are unaware, I will share a few personal stories.
In high school, I ended up becoming a decent enough tennis player to pick up some JUCO and Division 3 offers. I was far from a world-beater, but I could hold my own. Going into my junior year, our number one player had strained a muscle in his back, and needed to play doubles to limit his number of serves in our team's first match. I moved over to the singles court.
During the course of play, I cruised to a 6-2, 3-0 lead, and that is when it happened. I went into full on choke mode. For most of the match, I had served aggressively, attacked the net and went for winners. All of a sudden, I could not do it. I was trying to aim my serve instead of hitting it. Ditto for the forehand. The net became a land of misadventure when I tried getting up there. My opponent knew this, and all he did was hit balls to the center of the court and watch me tighten up and miss shot after shot after shot.
His strategy worked and before long, he had taken control of the match, winning the second set 6-3 and taking a 3-0 lead in the third. Once I got behind, the pressure disappeared, and the aggressive play returned. At this point, I had to play to win, and sure enough, the pressure got to him. In the end, he choked, and I kept the pressure up to win the match.
Throughout my junior and even adult days, I still fought with choking during a match. It just happens some of the time in any activity. The second one starts to over analyze a game or situation, it happens. The closer one gets to picking up a big win, the easier it becomes to choke.
If you have the game on DVR, Mississippi State choked. Dak Prescott in particular needed the Heimlich. Watch his throws in the fourth quarter. The ball leaves his hand late in his motion. He starts trying to be too perfect with the placement of each pass. He started feeling the pressure of picking up the win.
On the last drive, playing soft coverage should signal signs of a choke. Mississippi State had done well with aggressive defense all day, but now the coaches (along with players) were worried about the big play. Instead of playing aggressive, Mississippi State let Auburn bleed the defense in an attempt not to lose.
The good thing about choking is that for many, it is an important early step in learning how to win. Should Prescott find himself in a similar situation, it will not be a new feeling, and it will be much easier for him to handle.
Bulldog fans, back off the ledge and see how the rest of the season plays out. Making a bowl will be a bit of a challenge, but it will be good to see this team deal with adversity another time this year.
Mississippi State was in a position to win this game, but let themselves lose it while trying not to do so. They will only improve because of it.
Many fans in Pittsburgh had started to give up on Bill Cowher after multiple AFC championship game losses and a Super Bowl loss. The Steelers' patience and belief in Cowher eventually paid off when coached Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl XL victory.
No. 7 Louisville 27, Kentucky 13: As many expected, the Governor's Cup did not produce much drama, and the Cardinals continued their march to being an undefeated team left out of the BCS championship game.
Arkansas 24, Southern Mississippi 3: The Golden Eagles ran their losing streak to 15 games while the Razorbacks picked up a much easier win than their game versus Samford.
No. 1 Alabama 49, No. 6 Texas A&M 42: In a game that lived up to the hype, the Aggies looked ready to stun the Tide again, but this time Alabama found a way to win the game. If the Aggies had a bit of a defense, they might have won this game. With the win, the Crimson Tide have moved into being solid favorites for the national title.
No. 2 Oregon 59, Tennessee 14: In a beat down that many expected, the Ducks smoked the Volunteers in Eugene. Right now, the betting favorite might be an Oregon/Alabama national title game.
No. 8 LSU 45, Kent State 13: LSU just keeps winning and lurking in the SEC West. It will be interesting to see how this team performs the rest of the way.
No. 13 South Carolina 35, Vanderbilt 25: While the Commodores keep improving, they keep showing they are not quite ready to move to the top of the SEC East. South Carolina looked much improved, especially defensively, in this contest.
No. 25 Ole Miss 44, Texas 23: The walls continued to crumble around Mack Brown as his team lost yet again. While it did come against a down Texas squad, this Ole Miss team looks solid, and could surprise folks with its final record.
Arkansas State 41, Troy 31 (Thursday night): Next week's opponent racked up a bunch of yards, but four turnovers cost Troy the game in their Thursday night contest against the Red Wolves.
HANDING OUT HARDWARE
SEC OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: A. J. McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama: While he ended up with fewer yards and touchdowns than Johnny Manziel, he also ended up with fewer interceptions, and that proved to be the difference in the contest at Kyle Field. McCarron finished 20 for 29 passing for 334 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
SEC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama: Yes, the Crimson Tide gave up a ton of points on defense, and yes, they did get beat up through the air. However, Sunseri's 73-yard interception return for a touchdown put daylight between Alabama and Texas A&M, giving the Tide a 21 point lead. Given the way A&M had moved the ball early, that single play probably provided a 14-point swing.
THE TWEET THAT WON TWITTER THIS WEEKEND:
Dan Mullen just went for it on 4th and 1 from his own 29, because Dan Mullen has lost his damn mind.— edsbs (@edsbs) September 15, 2013
Some said it was Les Miles-esque, which I would take as a compliment. It was playing to win the game, and not really much of a gamble with a battering ram quarterback. I wish they had done it again instead of punting later on their next to last possession of the game
SEC POWER RANKINGS (LAST WEEK IN PARENTHESES)
1. Alabama (1): In what might be the Crimson Tide's biggest challenge, A.J. McCarron led his team to victory.
2. Georgia (2): The Bulldogs beat the bye week and still look like the second best team in the SEC.
3. LSU (3): The LSU Tigers have taken care of a good foe in TCU, and they have thumped lesser foes in their following games. The Tigers should not expect much competition from Auburn this weekend.
4. Texas A&M (5): Even though they lost, Texas A&M came close to replicating the magic of last year against Alabama. Two interceptions proved to be the difference, but in the loss, A&M looked good enough to jump South Carolina.
5. South Carolina (4): South Carolina had a great first half and coasted to victory over Vanderbilt. It was a good win, but not as impressive as the Aggies loss.
6. Ole Miss (6): The Rebels have made it to 3-0 beating Texas over the weekend. Outside of Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M, nothing else looks like a sure fire loss for the Rebels, and even those games may see Ole Miss have a fighting chance.
7. Florida (7): The Gators had a bye week. It will be interesting to see if the team looks better going forward.
8. Vanderbilt (8): Saturday night gave Vanderbilt a chance they belonged with the big boys in the SEC East. They came up short again in such a game.
9. Auburn (9): The Tigers have already eclipsed last year's win total, and they did so with a solid performance against Mississippi State.
10. Mississippi State (10): Mississippi State had a big chance to prove themselves against Auburn, but instead, the Bulldogs blew that chance.
11. Arkansas (13): The Razorbacks have three wins over three cupcakes. It will be interesting to watch them as they move into SEC play.
12. Missouri (12): The Tigers have not yet played a game of much consequence. That continues next week when they face Indiana.
13. Tennessee (13): There is no way around it-Tennessee has a way to go on the rebuilding road.
14. Kentucky (14): The Wildcats have an even longer road to go to respectability and bowl games than Tennessee does.
FIVE THINGS I THOUGHT ABOUT THIS WEEKEND:
1. Alabama/Texas A&M was an amazing contest. Two of the best quarterbacks in college football went toe-to-toe, and the Aggies hung 42 on the Alabama defense. Thanks to both teams for an exciting contest.
2. Two hard things to believe after watching that game: 1) A.J. McCarron may finish college without a Heisman Trophy, and 2) Johnny Manziel may never play in an SEC championship game or a BCS bowl.
3. When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals square off tonight, one of the two teams will more than likely see their playoff hopes die. Two good teams, and the loser is most likely destined for an early vacation.
4. Sadly, many adults took to twitter to criticize individual football players on the college level. As awesome as the internet is, it is awful in many ways.
5. I enjoyed seeing Daniel Bryan get the win at Night of Champions. It came in controversial fashion, just like Randy Orton's title win at Summerslam. That should keep this feud going for a while, and who knows, could we get lucky enough for Punk/Bryan at Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans?