STARKVILLE, Miss —Mississippi State fans felt as if they were left at the altar by Dan Mullen and hurled expletives at him and his players the second the Florida Gators stepped off the bus at Davis Wade Stadium. It was sort of like if Mullen had broken up with a girlfriend and then showed up at her house for Thanksgiving dinner with a new girl.
Mullen spent nine years dedicating his life to building the program as Mississippi State. His family grew from two to four in Starkville; he made a home and a life for himself all while turning a program that was an after thought into a contender.
There was not appreciation for that in the stands on Saturday night and his team sensed that. They knew what this meant to Mullen and that’s why as the final seconds ticked off the clock they doused their head coach with icy cold Gatorade.
“It is pretty special for me to come in here. You know, it’s probably the last time I’m ever in this stadium with how the SEC works. So, to finish, this is my last time ever being in Davis Wade Stadium and I finish with a win.”
Before you freak out Mullen isn’t planning on going anywhere. The way the SEC schedule currently works Florida wouldn’t return to Starkville for another 14 years or so, but this game was more than just that to a lot of people, Mullen included.
“I know everyone wanted this game,” Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons said after the game. “As bad as it hurts to the fans and to the program, with losing this game against Coach Mullen, we just have to control what we can control and move on from it.”
This was the back end of a two-pack road game slate playing in two very hostile environments. There were so many questions surrounding Florida. Could they handle the physicality of Mississippi State? Would they be able to corral a mobile quarterback, were they even as talented on paper as the team Mullen put together across the field? This is probably the best team that Mississippi State has ever had, thanks to Mullen and his staff. Would the Gators be able to topple them?
“We knew we had to come out and get this win for him,” cornerback C.J. Henderson said. “We knew those guys wanted to beat him bad and we had to stand up for our coach.”
That’s exactly what Florida did Saturday in a 13-6 win on the road. The Gators were able to withstand a 6-3 halftime deficit. The Gators quickly took a lead on the second drive of the third quarter and never looked back. The defense smothered the Bulldogs in the second half. Florida got a lead and the line was able to pin its ears back and make Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald throw the ball. Precisely what they wanted.
“Oh we got after him a lot. Honestly he’s a running quarterback, he can’t really throw the ball that good,” defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga said. “So we knew if we got him in passing situations it was over.”
Mississippi State mustered 43 yards of offense in the second half. They gave up six sacks in the game, were 1-7 on third downs in the second half and 2-12 in the game and just 11 total yards in the fourth quarter. It was domination.
It was also sweet for Mullen. He ran to midfield and shook hands with the man tasked with replacing him. He then had players, the ones he recruited, come up to him, shake his hand or hug him and say hello.
“You know, there are guys on that team, that had every scholarship in America and there’s some guys that didn’t and we took chances on, you know, but
all of them, it’s just, you love those guys,” said Mullen. “I mean you really do, I love all those guys.”
Mullen made his way over to the Florida section and celebrated with his fans. He celebrated with his team in the locker room then he turned his attention forward. There isn’t time to celebrate this one, even as deserved, as it would be to let this win linger and waft in the air. Mullen already was looking ahead to next week.
This is a great win for us. And as I’ve always said, in this league, you win two really tough road games, you’ve won against a rival, you come in and you play a Top-15 team the next week and you get to head home and play a Top-5 team the next week,” he said. “That’s just what the league does to you. We’ll enjoy this win
tonight and get to work on LSU tomorrow.”
Let that gameplan wait until Sunday. Stop the bus at Bop’s where they had previously named a frozen custard after Mullen before renaming it the “Lateral Move.” Enjoy one more frozen custard in Starkville and let this one soak in. You said it yourself, you may not be back at Davis Wade ever again.