Saturday’s loss sucked. It was awful. Mississippi State, where it is supposed to be as a program in year eight of the Dan Mullen era, had no business losing that game to South Alabama. But that’s exactly what happened. The Jaguars came to Starkville and stunned all of us.
I reached out to Devon Bell, former kicker and punter for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, to ask him about this loss, what it means for the players, and how to move on from this.
Ethan Lee: What is one thing you wish fans understood about everything that goes into game preparation? What is the most arduous aspect of preparing for a team while balancing everything else on your schedule?
Devon Bell: I feel that if some of the fans who claim that some players have "one job" actually went through the weekly preparation process, then they would have more respect for those players. A lot of people don't have a solid understanding how disciplined an athlete has to be each and everyday with their preparation, but it's not the fan's fault.
Preparation for a game is much more than just going to practice. It's combined with other factors such as eating right, drinking enough fluids each day, studying film, going to class and making sure you get an adequate amount of rest. Yet, we don't criticize the fans for their lack of knowledge and understanding.
From my experience, time management is definitely the most difficult part of finding balance between game preparation and other non-football activities. It's difficult to study for a test and try not to think about playing in a big game on Saturday, but you just have to stay disciplined and get done whatever needs to get done.
Ethan Lee: Looking at this game, how does the team bounce back from a loss like this mentally? What do you have to do as individuals, and as a group, to move on?
Devon Bell: The loss to South Alabama is one of losses that just kinda blows your mind. Some of the guys have grasped the concept that it happened, then there are those that may still feel like it's just a bad dream.
I feel that the easiest thing for each player, and the team as a whole, is to accept the fact that it happened and just let it go. It's easier said than done, but what good does it do to dwell on what happened last week? Let's beat South Carolina.
Ethan Lee: Which loss for you was the toughest to try to move on from? What kind of emotional toll did it take on you? What did you do to move on from that game?
Devon Bell: Losing to Alabama in 2014 still haunts me to this day. It was by far the worst overall performance of my career. I take the blame for that game because my team needed me during the biggest game of the year and I didn't deliver like I needed to. I can promise that it wasn't because of a lack of preparation or focus. I just had a really bad game, and it cost us a chance to compete in the playoffs for a national title. I told myself that it happens to the best of us, and I just moved on.
Ethan Lee: As fans, how can we improve how we interact with the athletes, both online and in person?
Devon Bell: First of all, I would like to acknowledge all the fans out there who build players up. Even when they do make a big mistake. It doesn't go unnoticed and it is greatly appreciated.
From my own understanding, there is a massive difference between the criticism of the media and the fan base. The media is paid to voice their judgements and opinions based on player and teams performances. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter because players usually don't have that "family-like" relationship with the media, so it's more motivating to want to prove them wrong when they have doubts about you and your team.
When fan bases negatively criticize and bash their own players, it becomes personal. The fans, especially the Mississippi State ones in this case, are the heart and soul for game days throughout the season. I give the Mississippi State fan base most of credit for the win over Auburn in 2014. Davis Wade Stadium was absolutely magical that day and because of that, we became the #1 team in the nation. Dak, himself, said that we don't have fans, we have family. So how do you think the players feel when they get bashed by their own fan base? It's equivalent to my own brother telling me that I suck and that I'm terrible at what I do.
These players are 18-22 year old young men who put their heart and soul into a game that is also played by children on a playground. I want every single Mississippi State fan to know that what you say to a player on social media, or anywhere else, can correlate to a players performance. Encourage the players. Especially the ones who didn't have their best performance.
I can promise that they hate messing up significantly more than you hate seeing them. They need every single one of you to be positive and build them up because I feel that by doing that in itself will be a huge factor in how this season could end up.
Ethan Lee: How big of an impact is it really to see fans leave early?
Devon Bell: From my experience, when fans leave the game early, it's signifies a lack of interest and boredom. It can dictate how the rest of the game could end up, and I believe that we saw that Saturday. South Alabama didn't deserve to win, much less in Davis Wade, but I imagine that the player's mentalities weren't the same when they had a nearly empty stadium to play for.
Every time the fans would leave, when I was at Mississippi State, I was about ready to leave. I would zone out and my head wouldn't be in the game like it needed to be, but when a lot of fans are still there, cheering and ringing their cowbells, then the game was more intriguing. It was still fun for the team, and myself, because it meant that the fans haven't lost their enjoyment of watching us, and that in itself can be extremely crucial to a team's success of a game.
Ethan Lee: If you could say one thing to Westin, or yourself from a year ago, to help him get back on track, what would that be?
Devon Bell: Have fun, kid. Do what you do, and bang em' through.