Don’t Stop Believin’ (In Mississippi State)

For the first time in school history, Mississippi State is ranked number one in the coaches and AP poll. The environment in Starkville was one I had never seen before. Friday afternoon there were over two thousand Bulldog fans camped and waiting to reserve their Saturday tailgate spots. Several dedicated fans spent the whole night out in the Junction, to have their fifteen seconds of fame in MSU’s first ever College Gameday visit. Guest picker for Gameday was MSU alum and Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. With all this hype and the dogs facing their third consecutive top 10 team, everyone doubted the bulldogs could make it a 3-0 run. Honestly, most MSU fans were skeptical themselves.

Bulldogs took an early 14-0 lead after some key Auburn mistakes. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s first throw of the game was sent directly into the hands of MSU defensive back Jay Hughes, and Auburn WR Duke Williams fumble on the drive that followed.

After an Auburn punt, and a easy walk in by Dak Prescott a few plays later, MSU had a powerful 21-0 lead with just under nine minutes left in the first quarter.

The second, however, belonged to the Tigers who scored a quick 13 unanswered points, making it an eight-point game. The Bulldogs finally got something going and Dak Prescott ran in from fifteen yards out, taking State’s lead back to a more comfortable 15-point margin.

That’s when the rain began. The heavy downpour was a great advantage for MSU. Auburn could not get a solid run game going all afternoon, and who is going to throw in the pouring down rain? A couple of sloppy plays and no points by both teams sent it into halftime at 28-13.

The third quarter saw back and forth defensive stops until 10:03 when Marshall connected to Williams for a 15-yard TD making it now 28-20.

Champions rise in the final moments of big games, and MSU claimed their top spot in the closing quarter of the Bulldogs’ upset. Prior to the start of the fourth, CBS took its longest commercial break of the game. During this break Davis Wade Stadium broke out in “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. While everyone in the stands belted the lyrics to the 80’s classic I was watching the Bulldog sideline. They were staring in awe into the crowd, with their jaws on the floor. In my 21 years of life I have never heard the Davis Wade 12th man so loud and so passionate. The jumbotron displayed a huddle of MSU players getting their minds right for the last 15 minutes of battle.

In the midst of that huddle, starting middle linebacker and captain of the defense Benardrick McKinney was screaming, “We will give relentless effort”. That is exactly what MSU “psycho defense” did.

Holding Auburn to a measly field goal they got early in the fourth. They also stripped a kick-off, which lead to a bulldog touchdown. Finally on Auburn’s final drive, Justin Cox made a diving interception on the three-yard line to put the nail in the coffin for Auburn.

As Dak took the final QB kneel to finish the game, the entire team rushed to the student section to recognize the relentless effort the students had given all day. It truly was the greatest day in Mississippi State history.

This game proved a couple of things for the Bulldogs:

1. Dak is the leader, but we don’t depend on him.

Dak tied his season total with two interceptions in Saturday’s game. It clearly wasn’t his best performance. With all the rain we really relied on Josh Robinson and our ground game.

2. MSU pass defense is not as bad as people make it out to be.

Auburn threw for 209 yards in Saturday’s matchup, but our defensive backs were never beaten deep by Auburn’s dominant receiving corps. Sammie Coates was all but shut down in this game. Duke Williams brought in a couple of scores, but none were caught off the long ball.

The Bulldogs are ranked number one in both polls and have a bye coming up this weekend, one when they need it most. After winning three consecutive top 10 matchups, these boys need to rest and take a breath and admire what they have done. The team also needs to look forward at the last stretch of the season. The Bulldogs face Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss all on the road, a tough schedule to look down. State also faces Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and UT Martin at home.

They way it looks, if the Bulldogs and the Rebels keep giving relentless effort, I believe the winner of the Egg Bowl on November 29 will be taking a trip to Atlanta.

*Section Photo credit to Spruce Derden, USA Today Sports; Featured Photo (above) credit to Jim Lytle, Baton Rouge Advocate