Tyson Lee failing to score on the goaline against LSU in 2009 signifies the entire Dan Mullen Era. The Bulldogs have always been one inch, one play, one player and one “statement” game short of ascending from a “Team on the Rise” to legit SEC Title contender under the sixth-year coach.
Auburn 2010: The Bulldogs were faced with an opportunity to beat the eventual national champion. Chris Relf attempted to lead a game-winning drive. It was a valiant attempt. But Leon Berry, a Bulldog receiver, dropped a critical pass. One play short.
South Carolina 2011: Bulldogs have an opportunity to beat South Carolina, one of the premier SEC ball clubs the past few years. They have the lead in the last minutes. What happens? South Carolina gets a favorable match up with Alshon Jeffery on Corey Broomfield and not Mississippi State’s best corner Johnthan Banks. Jeffery “Mosses” Broomfield and the Bulldogs are once again one play and player short in a big game.
2012 Season: The Bulldogs start the season 7-0 and are poised to take the next step. What happens? They nose dive and lose five of their next six games–including their only loss to Ole Miss, their in-state rival, during Mullen’s tenure.
Auburn 2013: The “Dawgs” again have an opportunity to beat Auburn, the eventual national championship runner-up. What happens? C.J. Uzumah gets a favorable match up against freshman cornerback Cedric Jiles and scores the game-winning touchdown for Auburn. Again, one play short. Now the Bulldogs had two solid victories in 2010. They beat Georgia and Florida, two perennial powers. The victories are a good notch in the belt. But it doesn’t do much for your program to beat perennial powers in down years.
Present Day: The Bulldogs have another opportunity to make a statement Saturday against LSU. They’re riding a six-game winning streak going back to the 2013 regular season and have the most depth they’ve had under Mullen. The excuse for “Dawgs” in most years is that they don’t have comparable talent to most SEC powers such as LSU. That’s not the case this year.
The Bulldogs have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback(Dak Prescott), two All-SEC candidates at receiver(De’Runnya Wilson and Jameon Lewis), two All-American candidates on the defensive line(Chris Jones and Preston Smith), an All-American candidate at linebacker(Benardrick McKinney) and two talented cornerbacks( Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun). An argument can be made that Bulldogs are more talented than LSU in several positions. Quarterback, Wide Receiver and Linebacker come to mind. That’s a claim the Mullen-led squad couldn’t make the past few years.
Toppling LSU won’t be an easy task. They are LSU after all. While the Tigers still have uncertainty at quarterback, they still have a dominant running game, which features Kenny Hilliard and heralded true freshman Leonard Fournette. They have the big-play ability of Travis Dural on the outside. And as always, they have an elite defense, which is only allowing eight points a game. Oh yeah, the game is in “Death Valley”, one the toughest road environments in college football. A win would give the Bulldogs a statement victory, but also, momentum as they head into the meat of their SEC schedule, in which they face Auburn and Texas A&M two weeks in a row. “Right now our focus is on this game and this game only. If we win this game we are going to be where we want to be in the SEC race. It is always important to win your first game in conference play because that really gives you a big jump start in the conference,” Mullen on the importance of getting off to a strong start in SEC play.
ESPN will televise the game. So, the whole world will be watching. Mullen is trying to keep things in the proper perspective, though “We get a ton of publicity playing in the Southeastern Conference and playing great teams all the time. If we win we will have one day where everyone tells us how great we are, and if we lose we will have one day where everyone tells us how bad we are. Then we have to get back to work. I don’t pay much attention to it because we won’t be as good as everyone tells us we are and probably won’t be as bad as everyone tells us we are. Sunday we will be right back to working on the next opponent,” Mullen on playing on the national stage.
The Bulldog fans and players have come up with creative hashtags for the season: #Dak4Heisman, #$Yr, #MakeEmBelieve and #RdToAtl. All those things could become a reality if they don’t fold in the clutch. That means they must convert their third downs. That means that they can’t have a slow start. And they can’t let the moment overcome them as they have in every year under Dan Mullen. Beat LSU and you’re not a team rising to the top. …You’re there.
Jeremiah Short, Peach State College Sports Contributor Catch me on the “SportsKrib” on Wednesday’s 8-9 Central. Follow me on social media @DaRealJShort or check out my facebook page JShortJournalist or my Google Plus page J.Short- Journalist.