1) Nick Fitzgerald appears promising
This is the biggest takeaway from the game for anyone and everyone that saw it. Fitzgerald looked good. Him racking up 373 yards and scoring a couple of touchdowns on a Will Muschamp coached defense in his first real game is an impressive feat.
That being said, he is still a raw talent that needs a lot of refining for Mississippi State to have any sort of sustained success with him at the helm of the ship. He completed 65.5% of his passes on Saturday, but he threw a few passes into coverage that simply should not have been thrown. I admire the confidence that Fitzgerald has in his abilities, but he’ll need to be sharper against better defenses.
He’ll gain more experience, and he should improve upon his passing ability as the season wears on. And his running ability makes him the ideal fit in a Dan Mullen offense. He looked like an early version of what we saw out of Dak Prescott on Saturday night.
2) The defense looks improved
Just like every other aspect of this football team, the defense made huge strides forward in just one week. And it wasn’t just in one part of the defense either. It was at every position group, from the defensive line to the linebackers and all the way back to the secondary. Everything looked better.
This could be from a variety of factors. Nick James and Jeffery Simmons both returned to action after serving their respective suspensions, and Simmons looked like he can be a huge difference maker for the Bulldogs. On top of that, A.J. Jefferson and Richie Brown both looked like clear leaders for their position groups when it mattered most.
Jefferson was a star and was a disruptive force in the Gamecock backfield while Brown quietly had a nice night with 10 tackles including a couple for loss. And they weren’t the only ones to show out. There were many guys in the front seven that made their presence known and looked like the intimidating front that we expected them to be.
While the secondary still looked like a liability at times, it seemed to be much more prepared for South Carolina than it did to open the season. There’s a lot of youth amongst the defensive backs, so they were bound to have their struggles at some point in the season. While cornerback will be an experiment for the entire season, Jamal Peters and Jamoral Graham both had solid moments, including Peters’ interception. Let’s hope that the entire group of defensive backs can continue to improve and can surge when it really matters against SEC teams.
3) Angry and invested Dan Mullen is good Dan Mullen
After week one, fans weren’t happy with Dan Mullen. Be it the decision to wear shorts on a very hot day (shorts are the greatest, wear shorts if you want Dan Mullen) or the fact that he seemingly lost his passion on the sidelines, fans were just not happy with how coach Mullen acted. And then week two happened. And Dan Mullen’s intensity returned. And fans became more accepting of him again.
From jumping around on the sideline to get fans fired up to being charged and showing energy in how he interacted with the players and the refs, it was clear that Mullen had heard about some of the criticism and was hell-bent on proving everybody wrong. And that yielded amazing results.
After the team appeared apathetic against South Alabama, the team’s level of intensity on the field was astonishing. And that was reflected by the fans in the stands. Dan Mullen looked invested in Mississippi State on Saturday. That’s a good thing for the future of the Bulldogs.
And if you don’t believe me that angry and invested Mullen showed up on Saturday, does this look like the face of a man that is content with losing?
4) The running back situation is still boggling my brain
Brandon Holloway up the middle. I can’t tell you how my times that this was tweeted to the For Whom the Cowbell Tolls twitter account when I was doing the weekly five words reactions piece. I also can’t tell you how many times we saw this sort of play run. But I do know that it was too many.
Brandon Holloway is the perfect guy to get out open into space on sweeps, speed option runs, screens, and passing out of the backfield. He’s not the perfect guy to run up into the teeth of SEC defenses. I’m tired of seeing Holloway get stuffed and shut down by linebackers that are two to three times his size. He’s an incredible athlete, but he needs to be used in a manner that is a better fit with his skill set.
Ashton Shumpert had a solid game (it’s refreshing to say something like that for the first time in a while). Aeris Williams had a solid game. But each of these guys only got five carries. For what they were given, they played well. But these two guys need to handle more of the inside runs, and Dan Mullen needs to let Holloway take plays that get him into space.
5) I’m still not sold on this team... Yet...
While I think this team made HUGE strides forward on Saturday, I’m still feeling burned by the South Alabama game. I want to see this team play to the level that they did against South Carolina consistently, and I want to see how they do against a tougher opponent like LSU.
While the Tigers aren’t the world beaters that they were in the past, they’re still a blue blood program in the SEC, and they look to be a far better team than Mississippi State so far. If the Bulldogs can hang with the Tigers this Saturday, I’ll be impressed. If they can find a way to upset LSU, I’ll be astonished. I think the Bulldogs have a lot of talent and a lot of potential, but I need a larger sample size before I can make any judgements about how good, or bad, this team really is.