Well folks, I stated last weekend after the loss to Kentucky that we would find out a lot about our Bulldogs in how they responded to the first loss of the season when they faced Mullen and the Florida Gators in Starkville... needless to say our Bulldogs failed miserably. Before the game started all I could think about was how we would balance the run game with the pass game. Last week against Kentucky we failed to run the ball at all and the passing game was not much better. Nick Fitzgerald needed to have a big bounce back with his accuracy to give us a chance at keeping the Gator defense on their heels so we could open up the run game and run the ball like we know they are capable of. I knew one of the biggest factors would be our offensive line going against Grantham’s blitz schemes and being able to pick up the rushers on the edge. Like last week, we were not much better in that area, especially in the second half. As I watched the game I saw failure after failure after failure in key areas that we needed to execute better in. Once again, it was not our night and Dan Mullen was able to come into Starkville for the first time since leaving Miss. State and came out with a 13-6 defensive struggle between two head coaches known for their offensive output. Florida made just a couple big plays and that proved to be the difference in a game that we so desperately needed to win.
When I got inside Davis Wade I could feel the electric atmosphere that I was hoping for and expecting for this game. It was no secret that all of us circled that date on the calendar considering who was going to be standing on the visiting teams sidelines. I was very pleased to see the entire stadium packed completely full and the excitement in the stadium was evident even before kickoff. I had a feeling that the night was going to be a good night, but I guess that outplayed song fooled me once again. Still, I expected so much more from our offense and I expected so much more from Nick Fitzgerald. I thought after last week that he would come out on fire but on the very first 3rd down of the game we had what appeared to be Fitzgerald’s first completed pass of the game and a first down but video review overturned the call and showed that Stephen Guidry lost control of the ball as he went to the ground and the Bulldogs were forced to punt. Dropped passes were a big problem last week against Kentucky and once again they would be a big problem in this game. On our second drive we managed to move the back down field with a balanced attack in the air and on the ground but we ended up settling for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. After Florida scored a field goal of their own, we would once again manage to drive the ball down field with a good balanced attack only to see that one end in 3 points as well. After that... it got flat out ugly. The first half ended with the score 6-3 as both teams struggled to put up drives that resulted in points.
Going into the 2nd half I knew we would need to gain some momentum to kick start our Bulldogs and the momentum sure did come quick when Cameron Dantzler was able to intercept a tipped pass from Feleipe Franks for the games first turnover at the 50 yard line. The crowd went wild and you could feel the electricity surging through the Bulldog faithful, and on the first play for our offense after the interception it seemed like we were going to go ahead by 10 as Nick Fitzgerald laid a perfect pass right into wide open Osirus Mitchell’s hands... only to watch him bobble it and let the ball fall incomplete. When that ball hit his hands the entire stadium erupted only for the entire stadium to collectively let out their sighs of disappointment a second later. It was a hard pill to swallow but on the bright side we had just watched Fitzgerald throw a perfect pass deep down field and we all hoped that he would continue to make accurate throws like that. Well... he didn’t. When I say things went down hill after that dropped pass, I mean things went down hill at a 90 degree angle bad. Fitzgerald missed open receivers way took many times and passes that did make it to the receivers were dropped too often. Then after Florida scored the go ahead touchdown, which was the only touchdown of the game for both teams, on a trick play toss to RB Kadarius Toney who then stopped and threw the football to wide open Moral Stephens to give Florida the lead for good. Florida would only manage 1 more field goal, but I have never been to a game where a 1 score game felt like it was out of reach. I haven’t seen our offense perform so poorly in a half for a long time. The 2008 Egg Bowl comes to mind when I think of how bad it was but I’m just going to stop right there because I have tortured us enough with this article and I am ready to put this one behind me.
So in the end that dropped touchdown pass was the difference in the game. Of course there were many other factors, that obviously was not the only reason we lost that game. We lost that game because we beat ourselves. We did not do the little things right and in the end those little things added up and led to a gut wrenching defeat against our former head coach who left us for “greener pastures”. That said, I will always be thankful to Mullen for what he did for our program. He took us to heights we hadn’t witnessed before and turned a program that was at the bottom of the SEC into a program that can compete with the biggest and best schools in the SEC. I can’t say enough about how much he did for our Bulldogs and there are some memories I will never forget while he was our coach as long as I live. Yeah he left us without our golden egg trophy and I’m still a bit salty over that and how he left before the bowl game but he had to do what he felt was best for him and his family and I respect his decision. Doesn’t mean I’m okay with losing to him... I’m not... but he still has my respect... most of it at least. Anyways, I wish him the best and look forward to the next time we meet on the gridiron.
Going forward, things certainly do look bleak. Our offense has now only scored 1 TD in 2 games, something that I thought was impossible coming into this season. So in 2 consecutive games the coaches failed to prepare our Bulldogs, Fitzgerald failed to deliver with his arm, our offensive line failed to by Fitzgerald the necessary time to go through his reads and our wide receivers are dropping footballs at an alarming rate. The defense is the only reason we have stayed in these games and while they are not perfect, they are far from what the problem is. The problem is that we cannot find the balance needed to run this offense and if Nick can not deliver through the air a change may have to be made in the form of Keytaon Thompson. Don’t get me wrong, Fitzgerald can be a great QB and has shown that he can be. He just needs to find his way out on that field where we have seen him do it before. This offense must get a passing game going to open up the field for our run game and Fitzgerald will have a very tall task against a very good Auburn defense next week. I know he can do it and so does he, he just has to calm down and use finesse instead of throwing a rocket every time. Our offensive line must improve in pass blocking, especially our tackles who continue to commit false starts against stout and quick rushers on the edge. The only good thing about that game against Florida was the fact that we were our own worst enemies. We have to correct those mistakes and stop shooting ourselves in the foot. Our Bulldogs could’ve won that game, I have no doubt in my mind about that. Now they need to know that and they need to work harder than ever to fix those mistakes. It won’t be easy and it won’t be fun but if they just believe in themselves and in each other they can play with any team they play against.
Our Bulldogs are in a rough spot right now folks... this is a season that was full of high expectations and many were confident this would be the year we made that next step. So after 2 heart wrenching losses it cannot be easy to deal with that disappointment. Heck, I’m just a fan and I can barely go two minutes without thinking about it. So while the chances of making the playoff or SEC Championship are certainly out of reach now, that does not change the fact that we must show up and show out for our Dawgs on Saturdays. Like I said last week, we have been through this before and have been through worse before. We put it behind us and we move forward. No time for pity parties and “what if” because our Bulldogs have a lot of football left to play and they need our support regardless of what that record says or what our ranking is. Yes we will fall out of the top 25 but when has that stopped us before? We are not bandwagon fans that only show up when things look good, we are a family and we show up because we love our Bulldogs and support them regardless of the circumstances.