Intensity and passion described the response from Mississippi State University’s head coach Joe Moorhead, as he pounded the table following a 36-13 loss to Louisiana State University.
“We were gonna freaking fight,” Moorhead said. “No matter what the circumstance was, we were gonna continue to punch and continue to scratch and continue to claw and get up off the mat.”
That is exactly what the Bulldogs did on Saturday against the No. 2 ranked LSU Tigers. With a newly minted starting quarterback and a reinvigorated red zone defense, MSU was able to keep the score close for much of the difficult matchup against the undefeated powerhouse from Louisiana, just one week after an embarrassing loss to the now 2-5 University of Tennessee Volunteers.
Fans noticed the difference in passion between the two games, and Moorhead was quick to point out the change in Saturday’s post-game press conference.
“That was a different football team than I saw on the field against Tennessee, and that was stressed,” Moorhead said.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it was also a very different football team they were facing. LSU, led by head Coach Ed Orgeron and Heisman contending quarterback Joe Burrow, have been unstoppable in 2019, quickly earning their status as one of the hottest teams in college football.
The Bulldogs were able to keep the phenom quarterback contained for over a quarter and a half, forcing LSU to settle for three field goals as they were unable to convert in the red zone. The 9-0 deficit certainly felt manageable for the Bulldogs, especially when Garrett Shrader, the freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina, was able to scramble for a 12 yard touchdown.
Down by two against No. 2, Bulldog fans had Davis Wade stadium rocking. However, the momentum was suddenly erased when Burrow found Racey McRath for LSU’s first touchdown of the day on their first play of the following drive, a 60 yard strike made possible by a busted coverage on the part of the Bulldog secondary.
LSU was able to get another touchdown just before halftime, making the score 22-7 at the break. In the second half, the Tigers would remind the crowd why they are ranked No. 2, with two quick touchdowns on drives where they averaged more than 10 yards per play. Up 36-7, the Tigers coasted through the remainder of the game. MSU would get on the board once more late in the fourth quarter, with a 24 yard touchdown pass from Shrader to senior receiver Stephen Guidry, from New Roads, Louisiana.
The 36-13 loss leaves MSU with a measly three wins as compared to four losses on the year, the first time the Bulldogs have been sitting below .500 since 2016. With teams like Tennessee and Kansas State University contributing to the loss column, many fans have questioned how much longer Moorhead’s tenure as head coach should last.
Moorhead seemed aware of the criticism following the LSU game, stressing the importance of the process his staff is undertaking in building up the program.
“It’s gonna come down to how well we prepared during the week,” Moorhead said. “And our belief and our commitment to the culture and doing the little things.”
He went on to say he understands the anger of the fans, even claiming that he is “twice as mad” about the course of the season so far. He acknowledged that fans want wins now, but returned focus to the promise that the Bulldogs are on the right track.
“I know sometimes people don’t wanna hear it. They want the answer now,” Moorhead said. “We are building something special here. You know who believes it? The kids in the locker room.”
As for his comments about the kids in the locker room, it seems Moorhead was telling the truth. After his SEC start, Shrader emphasized the level of preparation and passion the coaching staff brought into the week leading up to the LSU game, specifically how Moorhead has carried himself in leading the team.
“He really cares about us and the program,” Shrader said. “He takes great pride in his offense and the game plan and the time they put in to make sure that we can be successful on the field on Saturdays. He was fired up … we were all fired up, and he did a great job of getting us ready. There was no doubt in our minds that we could go out and play with a team like this.”
Senior Darryl Williams, from Bessemer, Alabama, also backed up his head coach, saying the program is indeed heading in the right direction. He also said the team is sticking together because they need just three more wins to become bowl eligible with five games left.
“We believe in each other. Like coach said, this program is headed in the right direction,” Williams said. “I promise you guys that. I’m just looking forward to seeing our outcome … That locker room is still tight. We’re still a unit. We still believe in each other. We’re just trying to get some more wins to get bowl eligible.”