State keeps momentum, Rebels healing

Published 12:05 am Monday, November 3, 2014

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State’s first trip to the top of the national rankings has lasted four weeks and the Bulldogs are still in command of the Southeastern Conference’s brutal Western Division.

But admittedly, it’s a group that hasn’t looked invincible of late.

No. 1 Mississippi State (8-0, 5-0 SEC, No. 1 CFP) pulled out a 17-10 victory over Arkansas on Saturday, rallying for the win in the second half despite falling into an early 10-0 hole. Dak Prescott threw for a career-high 331 yards, including the go-ahead 69-yard touchdown to Fred Ross early in the fourth quarter.

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The narrow victory came on the heels of a 45-31 win on the road against Kentucky on Oct. 25 — a seesaw affair that featured big plays from both teams.

“Throughout the season we are going to have to face adversity, and that just shows you what kind of team we are,” Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson said. “If we just keep playing Mississippi State ball, we’ll be fine.”

In Oxford Saturday, Mississippi lost a hard-fought game against Auburn, any realistic shot at a spot in the College Football Playoffs and arguably its best offensive player.

Now the Rebels (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference, No. 4 CFP) — which fell to No. 12 in the most recent AP poll after a 35-31 loss to Auburn — must try to regroup after two straight losses to LSU and the Tigers.

“I’m a senior, so I’m going to do everything in my power to get my team ready for the next game,” said Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant. “We just have to keep going. I went from 2-10 to where we are now. I need them to keep going with me and make my senior year a great year.”

Bouncing back probably won’t be an easy task.

Expectations skyrocketed after the program’s best start to a season in more than half a century. The fall has been swift and harsh.

The Ole Miss offense will now be without sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell, who suffered a broken left fibula and dislocated ankle in the final minutes of the Auburn loss. Treadwell was running for the go-ahead touchdown when he was tackled from behind and fumbled at the 1-yard line.

His left leg bent awkwardly after the tackle and a hushed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium watched in stunned silence — processing the injury and the essentially game-ending fumble — as Treadwell was loaded onto a cart and taken away. He had surgery on Saturday night and is out for the season.

Treadwell’s injury came one week after starting linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was lost for the season with a broken leg. The two injuries highlighted how rough the SEC can be on team health — the Rebels’ game against Auburn was the fourth against a nationally ranked opponent in five weeks.

“It is part of the game, and it stinks to see (because of) how much work we put in,” Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram said. “Especially guys like Laquon (Treadwell) and Denzel (Nkemdiche), but we love each other and will fight for each other the rest of the season. In one play it could be gone.”

Ole Miss hosts Presbyterian, a team that plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level, on Saturday. Then the Rebels have an off week before a road game against Arkansas and the Egg Bowl against No. 1 Mississippi State.

Mississippi State does have a game this Saturday — against Football Championship Subdivision foe Tennessee-Martin — but that figures to be little more than a scrimmage before the team’s full attention can be turned toward the Tide.

In the meantime, there will be questions. Can the Bulldogs’ secondary shore up problems that caused all of those breakdowns against Kentucky? Can the offense continue to overcome so many turnovers — including eight over the past three games?

So far, the Bulldogs have responded well to adversity. Now in the season’s home stretch, they’re trying to make sure that’s still the case.

“We’re not striving to be the best team in the country,” Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones said. “We’re striving to be the best team in a stadium on a Saturday.”