Mississippi State came close. Like so many times before under Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs almost overcame that final obstacle at the end. Although, it wasn’t meant to be. LSU was far too good for far too long in this game for the Bulldogs to pull off the road upset. But State was almost there.
LSU came out firing to start the game. The Tigers roared out and did what they wanted with little to no issue for their offense. Danny Etling, the quarterback that we all assumed would struggle, lit Mississippi State’s secondary on fire while the human-bulldozer that is Leonard Fournette mashed and pushed right through the Bulldogs.
The Tigers would jump out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The first score coming from the aforementioned Etling on a 37 yard pass to DJ Chark. The second score came from Fournette, a five yard rush right through the teeth of Peter Sirmon’s defense. But the Tigers weren’t satisfied with a two score lead. Another Fournette touchdown early on in the second quarter would leave Mississippi State down 20-0, after the Bulldogs blocked an extra point attempt, that is.
But that blocked extra point and an eventual 41 yard field goal from Westin Graves were the only two things that the Bulldogs could be excited about in the first half. Nothing else was going right. And they found themselves down 23-3. This isn’t how the game was supposed to go. Mississippi State was supposed to be able to go toe-to-toe with the Tigers, or at least they should be able to in the eighth year of Dan Mullen’s head coaching career.
And that frustration showed itself in the second half. Mississippi State’s defense came out and though they weren’t perfect, they weren’t getting trampled by Fournette anymore. The Tigers were held scoreless in the second half. And Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs looked to slowly try to find a way to climb back into it.
And that started with the running game. After Nick Fitzgerald and Brandon Holloway were snuffed out in the first half, Dan Mullen looked to Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams to try to spark something. Trusting the two larger running backs started to pay off. The Bulldogs were able to sustain drives more and move the ball downfield against the Tigers, but all that State would come away with in the third was another field goal. They would need six more to win the game. There simply was not enough time left for that.
Things seemed out of hand for the Bulldogs. LSU seemed content to kill the clock in the fourth quarter, and they did a pretty good job of bleeding time out. With 6:50 remaining in the game, Mississippi State would have the ball at their own 34. The drive didn’t seem to be all that promising at the start, Nick Fitzgerald couldn’t get anything going and he was out of the game for a play because his helmet was knocked off.
Enter Damian Williams. A situation we thought would only be for a play before Fitzgerald would return to the game developed into something that spawned a lot of questions about quarterback play going forward because of how Williams played. The junior from Louisiana wound up driving the Bulldogs down the field and showed off some arm strength while doing so, guiding the Bulldogs into the redzone with his arm before ultimately powering his way in for a touchdown with his feet.
That wasn’t all that the Bulldogs had in store for a weird few moments at the end of the game either. A perfectly recovered onside kick gave the Bulldogs fantastic field position and another chance to score. And again, it was Damian Williams taking the field for the Bulldogs, much to the confusion of many. The guy that was supposedly beat out for the job because his ceiling isn’t as high was set to lead the Bulldogs on another drive.
And a two more passes to Fred Ross for a total of 32 yards and a touchdown brought the Bulldogs within three points after they trailed by 20 for the majority of the game. Two drives. A total of 11 plays. Less than three and a half minutes burnt up by the offense, and the Bulldogs were right back in the game.
The defense would have a strong outing and go on to force the Tigers to punt, and Mississippi State would have the ball on their own 25 with two minutes and 15 seconds remaining and a timeout in Dan Mullen’s pocket. It looked like the Bulldogs might be able to at the very least drive down for a field goal to tie it or win it with a touchdown. Momentum was on the side of the Maroon and White.
However, it wouldn’t last. A perplexing series of weird play calls and the Tigers would force a four and out, including a fumble on the sack on fourth down. And the brief dream of a comeback was ended by a wakeup call to the harsh reality of how awful Mississippi State had played for the majority of the game. Mississippi State had come so close, but they just couldn’t get over that hill.
That brings us to where we are now. Questions about which quarterback will be the starter will be incredibly common for Mississippi State fans to discuss. Damian Williams looked poise, but Nick Fitzgerald has more potential. A lingering quarterback battle won’t do any good for anybody, so Dan Mullen will need to find a single quarterback soon. The Bulldogs have a game against UMass coming up that they can’t afford to lose. The quarterback situation will need to be resolved, again, by then.