Mississippi State still searching for answers after BYU loss

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen says a little bit of adversity isn’t always a bad thing and tough times can make a team better.

If that’s the case, the Bulldogs hope the results come sooner rather than later.

There’s no denying it’s been a rough first half of the season for Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference), which has lost three of its last four games, including last week’s 28-21 double overtime loss at BYU.

The BYU setback was undeniably frustrating — especially since Mississippi State led for a big chunk of the evening — but at least there was some reason for optimism. The Bulldogs were much more competitive than the week before, when they fell behind 35-0 at home before losing to Auburn 38-14.

Mullen said the team played “physical” and “hard” in the BYU loss, but crucial mistakes — including personal foul penalties and missed assignments — are keeping the Bulldogs out of the win column.

“Some of the silly penalties we had overshadowed some tremendous efforts we had on the defensive side of the ball, but you see some young guys start to make plays and play a little better,” Mullen said.

Mississippi State appears to have a few winnable games ahead of it, starting with a road matchup against Kentucky (3-3, 2-2) on Saturday. The Bulldogs have won seven straight games in the series dating back to 2009.

But Kentucky has played better of late, winning three of its last four.

Mississippi State hasn’t had nearly as much to celebrate lately.

Mullen said he hopes the Bulldogs will do a better job in the passing game against Kentucky after an up-and-down week against BYU. Sophomore Nick Fitzgerald continued his inconsistent play, completing 17 of 36 passes for 214 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

One bright spot was Fitzgerald’s short pass to freshman Keith Mixon, who ran 44 yards down the sideline for the Bulldogs’ first touchdown against BYU. Other than that, Mississippi State struggled to create big offensive plays.

Mullen says he’s willing to take shots downfield. It’s up to his players to execute.

“I don’t think we’ve decreased the number of shots we have taken down the field,” Mullen said. “I think we’ve decreased the efficiency of our shots downfield. I think we have to hit a couple of those.”

Mississippi State’s offense is working around the absence of starting running back Brandon Holloway. The senior missed the BYU game because of an ankle injury and his return for the Kentucky game is in doubt.

That’s meant larger roles for others like sophomore Aeris Williams, who ran for a team-high 82 yards against BYU. Mixon, who has scored a touchdown in two straight games, and sophomore Malik Dear have also become a bigger part of the offense.

“It’s just opportunities for someone else to take and step up,” Dear said. “Brandon (Holloway) is a great player and we are going to try to do what he does best and to fill his role. But Brandon can only be Brandon, Keith can only be Keith and Malik can only be Malik. So we are going to go out there and do what we can do.”

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