The Mississippi St. Bulldogs were supposed to cruise to an easy win against South Alabama, and then welcome the Gamecocks to town and take care of business. But when Tyreis Thomas broke a tackle in his own end zone to avoid a safety, everything changed.
The Jaguars drove the length of the field and cut the Bulldogs lead to six, and the Jaguars began to believe they could win the game. Another late touchdown put the Jaguars up by 1, and Westin Graves’ kick off the left upright sealed the most humiliating loss in the Dan Mullen era. A game that was supposed to be a tuneup turned into a loss, and left the coaches, players, and fans looking for answers.
There is no way to confirm this, but I would venture a guess this is the first time in Dan Mullen’s time as head coach that his approval rating among MSU fans would be below 50%. There has always been a small group who felt like Mullen had done all he could and it was time to move on, but with the loss to the Jaguars, those fans have become emboldened in their stance.
The outcries against Mullen have become so severe, Scott Stricklin did something he has never done since Mullen has been at the helm. He issued a statement concerning the state of the football program.
MSU AD Scott Stricklin on supporting the football team pic.twitter.com/p2McszTsNw— Ben Wait (@bcwait) September 7, 2016
Saturday’s game against the South Carolina Gamecocks is one most people expected the Bulldogs to win before the year began. Many experts had South Carolina pegged in the bottom four teams in the league and many thought they were at the very bottom.
If Mississippi State loses Saturday to a team many considered to be the worst in the conference despite their win over Vanderbilt in week 1, the Bulldogs will likely have at least a 1-3 record when they play Auburn and an 0-4 record would not be completely out of the question. Fan support will hit rock bottom, and there will be lots of empty seats in Davis Wade Stadium for the remainder of the year.
Getting a win would help ease the fears that are swirling through the minds of the fans as we get ready for tomorrow. You can start to explain the South Alabama game away as a fluke if the Bulldogs emerge victorious. A convincing, one-sided win would further wipe away some of those fears.
But a loss means Mullen will have lost the fan base. The six year bowl streak will be over unless the team can pull off one of the most miraculous turnarounds in college football history. The calls to replace Dan Mullen will get stronger and stronger if MSU loses to South Carolina (those calls will go unanswered, but that is a topic for another day).
There have been a lot of important games played in the Dan Mullen era. Games that were played in 2014 had national championship implications. But if Mississippi State is going to continue the momentum it has had in winning 19 games over the past two seasons, they have to beat the Gamecocks this Saturday. If they don’t, a spiral back to the days of the Croom era could be on the horizon.
And that makes this the most important game in the Dan Mullen era.