Pick Six with Miss. State beat writer Brandon Marcello

This week’s Pick Six is with Mississippi State beat writer Brandon Marcello of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

There was such a groundswell of support for Mississippi State among its fans during its 7-0 start with the “We Believe” campaign. What is the mood like now that the Bulldogs have dropped their last two games by a combined score of 76-20?

I don’t think it’s necessarily a surprise that Mississippi State lost to Alabama and Texas A&M, but what has really upset fans is the way their Bulldogs lost the games. The defense looked lost at times, giving up a pair of touchdowns to Alabama on missed assignments and several long gains (30 missed tackles, says co-defensive coordinators) against Texas A&M. The defense has been exposed, and the defensive line just isn’t getting enough pressure on the quarterback. With another top-five quality team on the radar, a lot of them have already started looking forward to next week. I think a good performance in Baton Rouge – win or lose – will help that attitude.

What are the issues about this Mississippi State team that were exposed in their last two losses to Alabama and Texas A&M that weren’t exploited before?

MSU’s offensive tackles were pushed around by Alabama and Texas A&M, and the defensive line just isn’t living up to the preseason hype. We knew MSU’s secondary was going to be good, but some thought the defensive line may be the second-strongest facet of the team. That just isn’t the case, and the defensive line is struggling to keep running backs from breaking through to the linebackers. Defensive end Denico Autry is emerging more and more every week, but he isn’t recording the type of stats some thought he would deliver after hurrying quarterbacks 41 times last year at East Mississippi Community College.

Certainly it appears State is making progress under Dan Mullen, but at the same time there is a possibility that the Bulldogs could finish with five straight losses. Where does he stand right now with the fans, and is there anything to pay attention to about whispers that he could be next in line at Arkansas?

I’m not so sure Arkansas is going to go after Dan Mullen. I’m sure he’s on their list of potential candidates, but I don’t see him leaving MSU for an in-conference school. I may be wrong there (and, hey, it will not be the first time) but I Just don’t see it.

If MSU loses five straight to end the regular season, I think the fan base will start to turn a bit after three honeymoon-like years with Mullen, but I’m sure plenty of fans will keep the proper perspective: MSU hasn’t been this good in more than a decade and it’s going to take some time to build MSU back up to where it contends in the SEC West. Doing so against Alabama and LSU is tough, but falling short to Texas A&M, Arkansas and Ole Miss in the back half of the schedule will not set well with the fans.

LSU has played State more than any other team, and that and proximity give this the makings of a strong rivalry. That said, the Tigers have only lost once to the Bulldogs since 1991. How do State people regard the LSU rivalry?

I think you just hinted at it in your question. LSU has won 19 of the last 20 in this series, so it’s hard for MSU fans to develop a sense of a rivalry with the LSU fans, who, I’m sure, don’t see MSU as one of its top rivals. A win or two over the next few years would help build a rivalry, I’m sure.

Tell us about any Louisiana players who are making an impact for the Bulldogs.

Quarterback Dak Prescott (Haughton) has certainly been a big part of the Bulldogs’ offense, especially in the red zone, and has scored five touchdowns (3 rushing, 2 passing). Dillon Day (West Monroe) received scholarship offers from Louisiana Tech and Louisiana Monroe, but MSU swooped in and offered him a greyshirt offer two years ago and it’s paying off today as the Bulldogs’ starting center. And keep an eye on running back Josh Robinson (Franklinton). He could see more playing time against the Tigers as the Bulldogs attempt to keep fresh legs in the game.

Is it fair to say State had a post-Bama letdown last week against A&M? If so, how do you see the Bulldogs rebounding and do they hope the same is true for LSU?

I think it’s fair to say it was a bit of a letdown. MSU looked sluggish from the start, and that is not a great recipe going against a fast-paced offense such as Texas A&M’s spread offense. MSU’s coaches have preached all week about starting fast on the road at LSU, especially after two slow starts in back to back weeks. I’m interested myself to see how LSU responds after a heart-breaking loss to Alabama last week. This game may have a slow start.