Mississippi State came away with a big win last night. This is more than just a victory for this Bulldogs team. It’s a fresh start to the season. It’s the beginning of a tough conference slate for a reinvigorated group of Bulldogs. It is the dawn of the Nick Fitzgerald era.
And it all started with Fitzgerald leading the Bulldogs to score on the very first drive of the game. Early completions to Fred Ross and Brandon Holloway allowed the redshirt sophomore quarterback to start to get in a rhythm, and the Bulldogs soon found their way into the redzone thanks to a nice run from Fitz and a defensive holding call on a pass play that targeted Donald Gray. From there, the Bulldogs were able to complete the drive thanks to Fitzgerald’s pass to Ross for six yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs would later try to cap off another successful drive that was highlighted with a Fitzgerald run that took him down the sideline for 74 yards. But State was stopped after a couple of questionable decisions and the ball was turned over on downs at the three yard line.
South Carolina, up to this point, hadn’t done anything, but they found themselves marching down the field. 6 minutes and 22 seconds later, they would attempt a 55 yard field goal, which was missed. This sums up the Gamecock offense in the first half fairly nicely.
But on the other side of the field, Mississippi State was finding a way to keep the offense clicking. Between some solid runs from Ashton Shumpert, Aeris Williams, and Nick Fitzgerald, the Bulldogs drove all over South Carolina. From there, Fred Ross took over and decided he wanted to throw a touchdown of his own. And he did. And it was beautiful.
Mississippi State had a 14-0 lead at this point. It would expand to be 24-0 at half. A Fitzgerald pass to tight end Jordan Thomas would bring the Bulldogs to 21-0, and a 7 play, 67 yard drive in a little over 1 minute set Westin Graves up to make his first field goal of the night and start to cement the fate for the Gamecocks.
And then a lightning delay happened. The mess that started during halftime forced many fans out of the stadium. And unfortunately, once the team returned to the field and the fans to their seats, some of the energy did seem to disappear. For the second week in a row, the Bulldogs experienced a second half slumber.
Because their offense was a mess in the first half, the Gamecocks turned to freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain to give the offense a spark. And he did just that. The Gamecocks found some life and found a way to march down the field and score a touchdown with 5 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Mississippi State would be able to respond though. With the game more or less out of reach for a deficient South Carolina offense, Dan Mullen went into “eat the clock” mode and kept his play calling vanilla, while focusing on the run. The Bulldogs managed to grab another field goal before giving up a final touchdown, bringing the score to 27-14.
Nick Fitzgerald, though appearing to be raw and slightly reckless at times, looks promising. Completing 19-29 passes for 178 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception is a great start for the young quarterback. Rushing for 192 yards and shattering records for rushing yards in a game from a quarterback showed fans that his ceiling looks to be pretty high. And the fact that he’s a runner first isn’t a knock on his potential. If anything, it makes him the ideal candidate to run a Dan Mullen offense. And as we saw with Dak Prescott, it is possible for Nick to grow as a passer and as a leader for this team.
Sure, the road up ahead won’t be easy. And the Bulldogs still look vulnerable at a couple of positions. But with Dan Mullen having rediscovered his drive and intensity, and with him settling on a quarterback, Mississippi State can now confidently move forward into the rest of the season and build upon last night’s win.