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Perspective is what matters

Five turnovers.

If there was ever a stat that painted the true picture of an ugly football game, it is that one.

Most of the other measurable statistics went Mississippi State’s way. More total yards, more rushing yards, more first downs, more third down conversions, more plays, more time of possession — you get the idea.

But it was the two interceptions and three lost fumbles that cost Mississippi State the Egg Bowl in Starkville Thursday night. And despite the final score of 31-28 it wasn’t all that close.

Now, State fans will chalk the loss up to the fact that star QB Nick Fitzgerald went out in the first quarter with a gruesome injury. And that was no doubt a factor. But it’s not like the offense did nothing with Keytaon Thompson running the show.

Thompson struggled early but his final stats weren’t terrible: 13-of-27 for 195 yards and a TD. He also ran the ball for 121 yards.  The five turnovers — one by Fitzgerald — were obviously the ugliest mark on the stat sheet.

But State’s defense didn’t help matters. The Rebels had three big passing plays: a 58-yarder, a 77-yard touchdown by A.J. Brown and a 63-yard TD by DK Metcalf.  They also had little trouble running the ball. Jordan Wilkins ran for 110 yards and two scores on 14 carries, including a 46-yard touchdown.

The game was painful to watch, especially considering Fitzgerald’s injury, and it’s one the Bulldogs will try to forget as they prepare for a bowl game. But for the Rebels, what a way to end the season.

Ole Miss finished 6-6, and though its record is good enough for a bowl appearance, the Rebs aren’t going. It’s been a tough year for Ole Miss, and interim coach Matt Luke held the team together better than most expected.

It’s hard to view this season as anything but a success for Luke. It might not be enough to land him the full-time job at Oxford, but the season is one he can look back on with pride one day.

So what does a State fan do following the loss of the Golden Egg — and the loss of Fitzgerald for a bowl game?

The same thing they do when other seasons didn’t turn out the way they hoped or expected. They carry on.  State fans have endured much through the years. There have been flashes of greatness, but for the most part there have been good seasons mixed in with a fair number of disappointing seasons. And fellow State fans need to be OK with that.

Even if the Bulldogs lose their bowl game, they will finish 8-5. Who complains about 8-5?

I know MSU was once No.1 in the country, but let’s be honest, that was a fluke. We are who we are — a good SEC football team. We are not Alabama. We likely will not be competing for an SEC title (or SEC West title) anytime soon. And that’s OK.

MSU is better as an underdog and that’s where we belong — not at the top fighting off challengers, but somewhere in the middle trying to upset a champion. We almost knocked off Alabama. I remember when that was good enough in Starkville.

I know Dan Mullen has “changed expectations” as people like to say. But let’s embrace who we are and be happy when we meet those realistic expectations. I’m not saying we shouldn’t dream big, but let’s mix in a heavy dose of reality. It will certainly make the losses a little less painful.

And if any new-to-MSU fans are disappointed in an 8-5 season, they need to take a quick look through the history books. There have been only seven seasons since 1940 that MSU won more than eight games.  In contrast, there have been 42 seasons in which they won five or fewer games. A little perspective might make the Thanksgiving night loss a little easier to swallow.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.