Evan Ertel from For Whom the Cowbell Tolls joins us for a look at our opponent this week - the Mississippi State Bulldogs. MSU is coming off of a 31-3 loss to Georgia last week, and so plenty of questions abound in Starkville... hopefully we get some of the answers here...
One week Mississippi State was the heir apparent to Alabama in the West after thrashing LSU, the next week Georgia was walking off the field after a really easy win. Which version of MSU is closer to the median for 2017, and which performance was the outlier?
Well, I'd like to say that last weekend was the outlier but that's with very quiet confidence. The first three games of the season all played into too much of the same script for me to think that one game against Georgia will revert this team to the worst it can muster. I truly think that Georgia was the better team in every single phase of the game and it wasn't even close, which I'm sure we all witnessed in the 31-3 final score. But, that's also a Georgia team that I think will be playing Atlanta's brand new stadium in this season's SEC Championship game. I like to think that MSU will find a rhythm on both sides of the ball closer to that which we saw versus LSU, after a week of tweaks and film.
We're pretty familiar with Nick Fitzgerald and his skillset, but what about the weapons he's got around him? Will he have good protection from his offensive line, or will he need to use that mobility to run for his life?
The offense outside of Fitzgerald himself, relies pretty heavily on Aeris Williams the O-Line's ability to establish the run at the line of scrimmage, something that didn't happen against UGA and it showed early. Williams is as good a runner as Mullen has had since Josh Robinson was running wild in 2014. Everything from the tempo of the offense, to Fitzgerald's comfort and confidence in the pocket will depend on MSU's ability to establish a run game. On the converse side of that, Donald Gray and Keith Mixon will also be key in allowing Fitzgerald to find early confidence in his pass game. The bottom line is that Fitzgerald is still a young QB and his performance each game is still at the point where if his guys around him are off, its going to be a long night.
You mentioned the Georgia defense in your questions for us, what did they do that really put you guys behind the eight ball and made it tough to mount a comeback?
Going back a little to the previous question, Fitzgerald is still a young QB and Georgia did an excellent job in making him uncomfortable. UGA's D-Line and LBs are borderline elite based on my minimal time watching them decimate MSU's offense, and coupled with Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker's wealth on NFL knowledge, they were able to throw fronts at Fitzgerald all night that our line couldn't stop and that he didn't know how to react to. Auburn wants to keep MSU's offense on the sidelines? Make Fitzgerald feel like he's a sophomore running for his life again.
What's the attitude toward Dan Mullen in Starkville? There are some internet rumors that he would leave to take a vacancy at Texas A&M if that came open. Despite MSU being ranked #1 for a period in 2014, he's never won the West during his time there... does he need to show a little more?
Absolutely not. Mullen has accomplished highs that were never seen as possible for the Mississippi State football program. Last season was the first time that fans actually started to wonder, "do we need to move on from Mullen?" With a loss early to South Alabama and squeaking past a few others, it seemed to be a legitimate question. But, without fail, Mullen took the Bulldogs to yet another bowl game, despite a 5-7 record, displaying a head coaching metric that few people ever actually look at but may be their most important statistic: Academic Progress Rate. Mullen then had one of his strongest recruiting cycles yet, and now it seems as if he's begun to reshape yet another promising QB. I, and all Bulldog fans, am more than happy with the Head Coach. (If you're an MSU fan and you're not happy with Mullen, I got nothing for you.)
And regarding the A&M job, please tell me that's a joke. Mullen has been rumored for jobs with 100x more prestige and at way lower points in his time at MSU than right now. If he can turn down the likes of Miami, Florida, and South Carolina, on top of many others, I am most certainly not worried about him taking a job at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University. Let's not forget the neighbors that share recruiting grounds with A&M in Texas versus those that share the grounds of the Great State of Mississippi (one is knee deep in NCAA investigation, btw.)
What's your prediction for Saturday night?
It all depends on the team that shows up on Saturday, as textbook as that sounds. Will it be the team that hung 37 on LSU or the team that played doormat for 60 minutes versus UGA? I think that we'll find somewhat of a happy medium. I see both teams finding early struggles on offense, keeping the game scoreless for much of the first half. Toss in a Fitzgerald 50-yard TD run and a late game stand by the Bulldog defense, I'm going 24-21 MSU.