The Mississippi State Bulldogs are going to look back at their 28-21 double-overtime loss to BYU on Friday night and see missed opportunities.
They’ll look back and see a missed field goal on their first drive of the game, and a fourth and two from the BYU 31 late in the fourth quarter when Dan Mullen decided to go for it instead of try for three points in a 14-14 game. That was potentially six points off the board for Mississippi State, when even three would have made a world of difference at the end of the game.
Receiver Fred Ross will look back at the dime that quarterback Nick Fitzgerald served up to him in the end zone in the second overtime. It was a dime that Ross dropped despite beating his man, and it would have extended the game into a third overtime for the Bulldogs.
“Fred just beat his guy one-on-one. The safety had moved to the center of the field and I just tried to lay it out there for him but sometimes that’s just how its happens,” Fitzgerald said after the game.
Speaking of Fitzgerald, he’ll look back at the two interceptions he threw against the Cougars as missed opportunities. With that said, he was a gladiator for the Bulldogs on the night, throwing for 214 yards and a touchdowns while picking up 41 very tough yards on the ground and two scores.
Despite his two mistakes, Fitzgerald was a leader for the Bulldogs and he kept them in the game. He also got some help from sophomore running back Aeris Williams and freshman wideout Keith Mixon. Williams led the team in rushing with 82 yards on 21 carries. Mixon caught four passes for 69 yards and was the recipient of Fitzgerald’s lone passing touchdown.
“He made some plays at times to win the game and made some good plays to go and do it,” Mullen said after the game, speaking of his quarterback. “That’s one of his strengths; that and the ability to make the play if the play breaks down and make something happen.”
When push came to shove, though, it just wasn’t enough for the Bulldogs.
Despite leading the total yardage battle 386 to 311, they lost the efficiency battle, which can be a killer on the road against a good team. Mississippi State was 8-for-19 on third downs and 1-for-3 on fourth down — again, missed opportunities. The Bulldogs were able to pick off BYU quarterback Taysom Hill once, but he still completed 16-of-28 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns. None more important than this 25 yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Tanner Balderree in double OT:
Hill also rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, which was another X-factor on the night for BYU. Had Mississippi State been able to slow down the Cougars’ quarterback, perhaps double overtime never would have been needed. Perhaps they would have been able to ride out their own mistakes.
That wasn’t what happened, though, and the result was a heartbreaking loss for the Bulldogs. It was their second straight and it dropped them to a 2-4 record. The loss didn’t hurt Mississippi State’s standing in the SEC, but it could have provided the team with a big dose of momentum heading into the gauntlet that is the end of the year for the Bulldogs. They’re now on a two-game losing streak after losing to Auburn last weekend, and outside of games against Kentucky and Samford, there aren’t many winnable games left on the schedule. November is shaping up to be a murderers row of games for the Bulldogs, as they have to play No. 6 Texas A&M, at No. 1 Alabama, No. 22 Arkansas and at No. 12 Ole Miss.
The loss to BYU could be the difference between a 5-7 season and a 4-8 season and that’s assuming that Mississippi State can beat Kentucky and Samford, and it’s never smart to assume in college football. Assuming they can though, the BYU game was the difference between entering November on a a three-game losing streak or entering it on a two-game winning streak, with one of the wins coming against a Southern Conference team.
If perception is everything in college football and momentum is just as important, the Bulldogs’ loss to BYU can only be looked at in one way: as a missed opportunity.