Slumping Mississippi State trying to keep bowl streak alive
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By PAUL JONES
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State has lost four straight games by an average margin of 21.3 points and appears to be getting steadily worse in the second season of Joe Moorhead's coaching tenure.
The Bulldogs (3-5, 1-4 SEC) head into the final month of the season needing to win three of their last four games to become eligible for a 10th straight bowl appearance.
That journey begins this weekend as Mississippi State travels to Arkansas (2-6, 0-5), which has dropped 16 consecutive conference games. The Bulldogs also host No. 2 Alabama, Football Championship Subdivision program Abilene Christian and rival Ole Miss in the month of November.
The Bulldogs are dealing with their first four-game losing streak since 2005. One issue has been slow starts on game day, as Mississippi State has been outscored 51-13 in the first quarter.
"One of the things we chart is first-drive scores," Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead said. "We did that in the first three games but haven't had it since. You can put an early-game script together with plays where you can try some different things and formations. But it's about making sure we make the right calls and executing."
Due to injuries and suspensions, Mississippi State's defense also has struggled of late. The Bulldogs are allowing 31 points per game and lost 49-30 to Texas A&M last week.
Last week Moorhead confirmed that starting cornerback Maurice Smitherman was out for the season with a knee injury. Moorhead said Monday that senior defensive end Fletcher Adams also sustained a season-ending injury.
"Outside of (allowing) explosive plays, we didn't get off the field on third-and-medium downs, third-and-6 or third-and-7," Moorhead said. "We brought some pressures and guys were free to the quarterback. But they were either a step slow and didn't get in his face.
"Texas A&M has some talented receivers that were able to create some separation with our inside leverage. Then tackling was part of it, and that is something that requires more attention."
One bright spot for the Bulldogs has been junior tailback Kylin Hill and the run game.
Hill had 150 of Mississippi State's 239 yards rushing against Texas A&M. Mississippi State ranks fifth in the SEC with 186.6 yards rushing per game.
Hill enters the Arkansas matchup with a team-best 793 yards after rushing for 734 yards the entire 2018 season. He is rushing for 99.1 yards per game to rank third in the SEC.
"I just had to change my running style a little bit from the previous game," Hill said. "I was trying to be finesse. This game I hit the hole with power like I've always been doing."
Moorhead also credited the offensive line for its contributions to the running game.
"The offensive line did a good job being physical up front and creating some movement," Moorhead said. "Kylin got downhill and behind his pads and ran with more physicality. He also had a good week of practice and worked hard, and his pass protection was also better."
Mississippi State will need that ground success to continue this weekend against Arkansas. The Bulldogs are running out of opportunities to keep their bowl streak alive.
"It's frustration," Hill said. "Four straight losses, nobody will be happy. But we tell the young guys keep your head up. It could be way worse. We could have zero wins. Times like this you just have to have a lot of leadership and guys to keep everybody up.
"We have to keep it moving to next week and see where we go from there. The season is far from over."
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Updated October 31, 2019