Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen watches his team warm up prior to Saturday's game at Alabama. (Photo by Dave Martin, AP)
Mississippi State has not had to respond to failure all year long.
This coming week the No. 17 (Associated Press) Bulldogs (7-1, 3-1) have to overcome their first loss of the season.
MSU fell 38-7 to No. 1 Alabama Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. This week things don't get much easier with No. 16 (Associated Press) Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2) heading to Starkville for an 11 a.m. kickoff.
"Our team has done a great job so far this year of handling the adversity of success," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said after Saturday's game. "We are going to see how we handle the adversity of failure this coming week. That is a great challenge for me and the staff. There is a lot of football left to be played. The season is far from over for us."
The Bulldogs hadn't loss since last season when they were beaten in a Nov. 19 game by Arkansas 44-17 in Little Rock.
"Up to this point we have handled success pretty well (with) everybody patting us on the back," MSU senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence said after the Alabama game. "Now it's all about how we are going to respond to the adversity."
The Bulldogs have to respond with a bad taste in their mouth. They were never really in the Alabama game, as the Crimson Tide took an early 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"There is a lot of disappointment," Mullen said during his weekly Sunday teleconference. "(There were) a lot of critical errors. You have to execute at an extremely high level. You have to do it every snap for 60 minutes."
Although there were a lot of errors made, Mullen and the Bulldogs have to build on the positives and move on.
"There are some things we did well," Mullen said. "We need to build on that."
It may just be 'coach speak' or the actual truth, but Mullen and his team view the A&M game as the biggest of the season.
"It's how our guys respond to it," Mullen said. "We had a nine-game winning streak. Our guys responded pretty well to that week in and week out."
Maybe the most important player who needs to have a good week of practice is quarterback Tyler Russell.
Russell completed only 15-of-30 passes for 169 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked once and was hit multiple times.
"We like what we have in Tyler," Mullen said. "He's a guy I trust as a leader of our team and shows great toughness. He will show resiliency throughout the game. Has the ability to make plays against almost every opponent we play.
"I don't worry about him not responding well to this. I think he'll respond great to this. (He) will come out with some great leadership and demeanor."
For Mullen and his squad, this week will tell a lot about the type of team they are.
"To be a championship team, you have to eliminate every negative," Mullen said. "You have to have complete focus for four quarters.
"We are still growing towards that. As we continue to develop and grow our program in that direction, we will learn from this game. We have a lot of young guys playing on the field. They have to learn from this game. If they don't learn from this game, this situation, then we are not going to take the next step."
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