Mississippi State needs 2 straight wins to be bowl eligible
The past two weekends of Mississippi State's football season have been a dramatic roller coaster ride: ascending to a euphoric high and dropping to a sobering low.
First, there was a stunning 35-28 win over then-No. 4 Texas A&M on Nov. 5 that shook up the national playoff picture. Then last weekend, the Bulldogs were totally dominated in a 51-3 loss to No. 1 Alabama.
There's certainly no shame in losing to the Crimson Tide, but the fact that the Bulldogs (4-6, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) weren't competitive was frustrating for the program. Now Mississippi State must win its final two games, starting with a home game against Arkansas (6-4, 2-4) on Saturday, to become bowl eligible for a seventh straight season.
''We just have our backs in a corner and we have to find a way to win,'' Mullen said.
Mullen didn't seem concerned that the lopsided Alabama loss blunted momentum from the Texas A&M win. Sometimes, he said, you just have to acknowledge a tough game and move on.
''I think Alabama has done a great job of separating themselves a little bit,'' Mullen said. ''But I think when you watch every other game, I don't know if there is a result with any two teams that would shock anyone within the SEC West.''
With that in mind, the Arkansas-Mississippi State matchup appears to be much more fair fight.
Mississippi State has a fairly balanced offensive attack, but leans toward the run game. Sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is tied for seventh in the SEC with 854 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He often teams with running back Aeris Williams, who has improved as the season's progressed, to form a potent combo when running the Bulldogs' read-option offense.
Williams, a 6-foot-1, 217-pound sophomore, became a bigger part of the offense when starter Brandon Holloway missed a few games with an ankle injury. Now Holloway is back, but Williams is still getting plenty of playing time.
''He was given that opportunity and certainly made the most of it,'' Mullen said.
Arkansas has struggled to stop the run. The Razorbacks are giving up 217.6 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 12th out of 14 league teams.
Mississippi State's current predicament is similar to 2013, when the Bulldogs were 4-6 in November and had a young team, but rallied to beat Arkansas and Ole Miss in the final two weeks to make the postseason.
Mullen hopes the current young nucleus that includes Fitzgerald, Williams, freshman defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons and linebacker Leo Lewis can pull off a similar feat.
''There are a lot of similarities,'' Mullen said. ''Both teams were very young we suffered a lot of injuries that year. We had some tough games and there we are with two games left having to go battle and fight.''
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