No. 17 Mississippi State moves on from Alabama loss
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By DAVID BRANDT
Mississippi State's football program was on the verge of a huge breakthrough, 60,000 screaming fans were in a frenzy on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium.
The Bulldogs were oh-so-close to knocking off top-ranked Alabama.
Then, Bam! Back came the Crimson Tide.
Alabama rallied for two impressive fourth quarter drives and escaped with a 31-24 win that was their 10th straight in the series. For the Bulldogs, there's no doubt the home loss was demoralizing and disappointing.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen understands his team's pain. He also realizes the Bulldogs must bounce back in a hurry to finish what could still be a very successful season.
"If we think we're a good football team, we're going to find a way to be better this week than we were last week," Mullen said. "That's what good teams do."
No. 17 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference, CFP No. 16) will travel to play Arkansas (4-6, 1-5) on Saturday before a home game against rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night. Both the Razorbacks and Rebels have struggled this season.
Mississippi State will be the clear favorite in both games. The Bulldogs' only three losses this season are to Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, which are all still in the national title discussion.
If Mississippi State can take care of business, it could still spend late December at an impressive bowl game and finish with a 10-win season.
"We have two more games left in the regular season, must wins, and we have a bowl game so we have to keep moving forward," Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald said after Saturday's loss. "We can't lean on this one."
Mississippi State played like an elite team for most of Saturday night against the Crimson Tide. Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the SEC in total defense - and No. 2 in the country - but the Bulldogs were able to consistently move the ball.
Mississippi State was also able to make some big plays on defense with seven tackles for a loss, including five sacks.
The only real issue was a secondary that gave up too many big plays. Alabama's Jalen Hurts completed just 10 passes but still had 242 yards through the air. On the final drive, Hurts completed back-to-back passes to Calvin Ridley (31 yards) and DeVonta Smith (26 yards for a touchdown) that proved to be the difference in the game.
Now Mullen needs his team to concentrate on making the necessary adjustments to fix any problems. After a tough loss like Saturday's, the task might be as much mental as physical.
"We have the opportunity to still have a great season ahead of us and do a lot of really good things," Mullen said. "We have three losses to teams in the top seven. We want to finish this season strong and hopefully put ourselves as a top 10, top 15 program in the country."
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Updated November 14, 2017