For the first time in 11 months, Mississippi State felt the bitter taste of defeat.
The Bulldogs had won nine straight games until running into a buzz saw named Alabama on Saturday night. The Crimson Tide were the first of three straight ranked opponents MSU will face.
"We have a different adversity that we face now coming off of a loss and how we respond to it is going to be very important," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "That's also part of playing in the Southeastern Conference. As a team and as a program you have to. There are a lot of dominant teams in this conference so you know with your schedule that you're going to have to play a stretch run at some point week in and week out you're going to have to play good teams back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back at times even over the course of the year. That's what makes this league the best to coach and play in."
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The Bulldogs fell to 7-1 and dropped four spots in the BCS standings down to 15th following their 38-7 loss to Alabama. The Tide scored all 38 points before State was able to score with just under five minutes to play.
Mullen's squad turned the ball over three times and committed six penalties for 56-yards in that contest.
"When you watch the film from (Saturday) night there's obviously a lot of disappointment," Mullen said. "There were a lot of critical errors that we made during the game that you can't make against a team that's the number one team in the country. We talked all week that we had to execute at an extremely high level and you have to do it every snap for 60 minutes. During the film we could see some significant breakdowns and the errors jump out and get shown when you're playing against a great team like Alabama is right now."
The Bulldogs fell behind 21-0 after the first dive of the second quarter and had their only scoring opportunity, a 31-yard field goal, blocked.
"Early on (Alabama) made some spectacular plays," Mullen said. "They made some big time catches along the sideline and their quarterback made some big time throws. We missed some sack opportunities. Offensively we got down to the red zone and didn't score. We had a throw on the sideline and Tyler (Russell) was a little bit high on it and we step out of bounds. That margin of error is so small in these big games. I think they did a great job of executing, we missed at times on that small margin of error and that showed early in the course of the game."
The Crimson Tide completed two touchdown passes to build their early advantage. AJ McCarron hit Kenny Bell on a 57-yard scoring strike after he got behind All-American Johnthan Banks and McCarron later found a wide open Michael Williams in the end zone for a 9-yard score.
"The breakdown in coverage was not just one person, it was a combination of people," Mullen said. "The one deep pass we were supposed to have a safety over the top and (Banks) had undercut the route thinking he had a safety over the top. He lost his man for a second in doing that and didn't have the safety over the top and it looked bad. The other one we had two guys misaligned. The second one to me is a coaching error. We didn't have the guys in the right position to make the play. Little mistakes against those good teams will get exposed."
Mullen believes Saturday night's game was a learning experience for many of his younger players and will actually benefit the team in the future.
"As we continue to develop and continue to grow our program in that direction we'll learn from that game," Mullen said. "We have a lot of young guys playing on that field and they have to learn from this game. If they don't learn from this situation then we're not going to take the next step. Hopefully they will process how they need to play and perform when we're playing in a championship style game."
Russell finished Saturday's game completing 15-of-30 passing for 169 yards, one interception and was sacked once. But even in the face of defeat, Mullen still has faith in his junior signal caller.
"I know what we have in Tyler," Mullen said. "He's a guy that I trust as the leader of our team. He's a guy that shows great toughness and shows resiliency throughout the game. He has the ability to make plays against almost every opponent that we play. With his maturity and development, I don't worry about him not responding well to this. I think he will come out with some great leadership and demeanor in how he leads the team this week."
And Saturday the Bulldogs will host Texas A&M at 11 a.m. on ESPN. The Aggies are 6-2 on the year and 3-2 in league play and feature one of the SEC's top offenses.
Mullen has faced Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin twice while he was at Houston. Sumlin and their star freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel are averaging 542.9 yards and 45.5 points per game.
"I've got a lot of respect for Kevin," Mullen said. "I think he's got a very, very smart offensive mind. Their offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury who I've never met but watched from afar, has a very innovative offense. They are very good offensive coaches and you can see that. I haven't watched film on them yet but I've gotten to watch some of their games on TV and obviously they have a lot of talent and a good system."
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