It has got to be such a weird world to live in when you're a college football freshman. One week of the season you probably think you'll redshirt, and then you get some time in mop up duty here and there to start gaining game experience. The next moment, you're heading into the game against the #1 team in the country, and you've got a chance --albeit a small one -- to help them win the game..
That was the set of circumstances for MSU freshman QB Damian Williams Saturday night, as Williams was called into action after senior Tyler Russell went down with a shoulder injury in the second half of MSU's loss to Alabama. Williams filled in nicely for a freshman -- he made some mistakes, but he also made a few nice throws and plays -- in a spot where yeah, we had a chance to come back, but few expected us to. Damian rode out the remainder of the game as the starter until the final whistle blew, and we all went home satisfied with the moral victory, but wishing we could have made a few more plays here and there to give Alabama a run for their money.
And then Monday, many of us woke up to this realization: what if Dak nor Tyler are ready to play this Saturday? Are we really going to have to start a freshman? Are we really going to play the first of two must-win-for-bowl-eligibility-games with a quarterback who last year was playing high school football? All these questions were and continue to be concerning, and as the week has gone on, we really know very little to negate the thought that we're down to our third string quarterback.
Today on the SEC coaches' teleconference, Mullen told the media that he didn't know who would start for State on Saturday. He would also go on to say that while both Dak and Tyler are doing better, he really would not be able to say who will get the nod until just before game time. Great, like we needed that heartburn heading into a game in a place where we've NEVER won. Nevertheless, we're in the situation we're in, so let's look at the different scenarios that could play out.
It always helps to start off with assuming the worst-case, and for us that would be that we are going to start a freshman Saturday on the road in the SEC. The good thing is that Williams looked confident when he was called into action last weekend. That's not a small statement either, considering that the game was against Alabama. But the bad thing is that no matter how you slice it, he's still a true freshman, called to start in a hostile environment. So great, here we are, but it's the hand we've been dealt, so does the kid have a chance? Well, if you were going to have him start against any SEC team on the road, Arkansas may be one of your top choices. The Hogs are 3-7 on the season, and they feature a defense that's 10th in the SEC in defending the passing game. That's good news for Damian's sake, although I have a strong feeling that State will lateral the Arkansas defense to death, and really never stretch the field if Williams does start.
The other positive is that Arkansas' defense is even worse against the rush, as the Hogs are currently ranked 11thin the SEC, giving up just over 170 yards per game. That's great to hear, because with Damian I imagine the plan of attack will be heavy, heavy on the run game between Perkins, Robinson, and Shumpert. If the MSU defense plays like they did last week and MSU can establish the run game, we could pull out a win, but even then it won't be easy.
Stats and analysis and matchups and all of the like might as well go out the window when we play in the natural state. The Bulldogs have been awful playing there in recent years, and even if Williams can play his best game, in the back of all State fan's mind's will be the fear that the fall is never far away.
So that's worst case. We start the youngster and pray that he doesn't fold, and for goodness sake, that he doesn't get hurt. So what about the middle-to-best case scenarios?
To me, the scenario that falls in the middle is that Tyler is ready to play, but Dak is not. I think if Russell can go, we should be well situated to win, should the defense play well again, and, you know, the whole bad juju thing doesn't catch up with us. Russell should be able to extend the field against that defense, and open things up for the running game. I can only pray every second from here until gametime that Koenning has erased all read-option plays for Tyler from the playbook, but I also know better, so there's a chance things go bad, and we end up right back with Williams leading the charge.
We've seen worse case; we've talked about so-so case. So what's best case? That would obviously be that Dak Prescott is healthy enough to start and lead the offense. State could have really used Prescott and his dual-threat ability last week, but I'll settle for getting him back the final two games. MSU's backs are against the wall if they want to make a fourth straight bowl, so the margin for error is slim. Dak being back gives MSU the best chance to grab a win at War Memorial, keeping MSU within the margin of error, and setting up an even bigger Egg Bowl at home on Thanksgiving Day.
Those are all the different scenarios, but that doesn't really tell us who is going to play. The harsh reality is that we don't know, and it looks very likely that we will not know until 11:21 CT on Saturday. I don't blame Mullen if he already knows and is playing coy to force Bielema to prepare for all three cases, but there's a strong chance that Dan really doesn't know either, and will be forced to make a game time decision.
Mississippi State has never won in Little Rock. Ever. But if there was a year in which that streak was primed to fall, this may be it. MSU the last two weeks has seemingly been within arms reach of a win, but we've simply been unable to grab it. At 4-6, the Arkansas game is not an option. I know that there are no glamorous bowls for teams that finish 6-6, but you know that these guys still want to be there, and that Mullen wants it for the practice reps, the rings, and to continue the streak.
Can MSU continue the streak? More importantly and more pressing, can they break the streak of losing in Arkansas' capital? Those questions ride heavily on the decision that will be made just before kickoff Saturday, and even though I think MSU has a chance to win with all three options starting at QB, I'm obviously hoping for the best (but as a State fan, preparing for the worst).