For some reason, a lot of people were confident Mississippi State was bad at football and Kentucky had become a superior team simply because Kentucky had a 5-1 record. Many of those people were Bulldog fans. Despite my pleas, many would not listen.
The Mississippi St. Bulldogs just thumped the 5-1 Kentucky Wildcats 45-7. It took until right after halftime to get the door slammed shut, but this was a game that was effectively over before it began. If you had questions about what this team is, then you should know by now.
The Bulldogs are a good, not great team. They are going to almost assuredly win 7 games, most likely 8, and have a really good chance at getting to 9. While they technically can get to 10, I’m not going to start getting hyped up about a win over the Alabama Crimson Tide simply because I’ve seen two teams who do what the Tide do play Mississippi State already and it wasn’t pretty.
So what doubts did Mississippi State erase tonight? Here’s a few.
If a team can’t TRULY stop the run, they’re going to have a hard time beating Mississippi State.
Kentucky came into the game giving up a mere 97 yards a game on the ground. But they did not play a single school that had a potent rushing attack up until this point. Mississippi State has one of the best running games in the country. The Bulldogs pounded Kentucky for 282 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, and 4 touchdowns. Kentucky was defenseless.
Nick Fitzgerald isn’t Dak Prescott, but he is still really good.
Fitzgerald had a monster game, but it probably still won’t make some people happy. He completed 18 of 26 attempts (69%), 155 yards, and 1 touchdown. Yes, he missed a few throws because he is not perfect and no one is. This is the wheel house for Nick Fitzgerald. if he does this every week, Mississippi State will not lose very often, if at all.
I’m confident in saying that because Nick Fitzgerald does so well what Dan Mullen asks him to do, which is run the offense. Fitzgerald is given tons of Run-Pass Options, and he often overpowers defenders when he runs. Saturday, he ran 12 times for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns. Whether it was through the air or on the ground, Kentucky was at the mercy of Fitzgerald.
When Mississippi State can get pressure on the quarterback, the secondary can make plays.
In the two big losses to Auburn and Georgia, Jake Fromm and Jarret Stidham had as much time as they wanted to throw. And because of that, the Mississippi State secondary was torched time after time.
Against Kentucky, the Bulldogs were able to get pressure consistently on Stephen Johnson. They did get three sacks, but the pressure applied made Johnson make less than stellar throws when they didn’t record sacks. There were times Kentucky receivers had gotten behind the covering defensive back, but Johnson wasn’t able to make those throws as well as he could have, and it allowed the secondary to make up ground and make plays on the ball.
The Bulldogs batted away numerous shots Kentucky took down the field and intercepted two passes, one a beautiful pick 6 by Gerri Green, and showed what the Todd Grantham defense is supposed to look like when executed properly. There is significant high risk/high reward to what Grantham does, but if the players execute the way they are coached, the opposing offense will have a difficult time finding ways to move the football.
Two bad losses do not mean this team is bad.
The overwhelming gripe I have heard this entire week was it wasn’t the fact that Mississippi State lost to Auburn and Georgia, it was the fact that Mississippi State lost so badly that made many fans believe the Bulldogs weren’t very good. I have news for you, that’s called a matchup problem.
The way Mississippi State is constructed, if teams are successful at limiting the Bulldogs rushing attack, they will probably beat Mississippi State and beat them rather easily. It doesn’t mean Mississippi State is bad, it just means they had a bad matchup.
This is what football is. One team tries to do what they do best with the football, and the other team tries to keep them from doing that. In Mississippi State’s case, when they can’t run the ball effectively, they have no shot. They need to run to have any chance at the pass. If the Bulldogs can get Stephen Guidry and Malik Heath up to speed quickly along with continually developing Nick Fitzgerald in the passing game, then the Bulldogs might not have this issue next season.
But for right now, they have wide receivers with physical limitations who need the running game to open up space in the secondary to have a chance to make plays. If that doesn’t happen, then the Bulldogs will get clobbered. This is why Mississippi State hasn’t had a game decided by less than 25 points this year. The Bulldogs have been terrible matchups for five of the teams they have played, and the Bulldogs had terrible matchups for themselves against two of the teams they played.
Your Mississippi State Bulldog football team is good. It’s not a world beater, but it is good. It isn’t written in the Bulldog Fandom contract that you have to feel like the team is bad all the time or you lose your MSU Fan Card. Yeah, they won’t win every game, but the one thing we have learned with Mullen at the helm, the Bulldogs will almost assuredly win more than they lose. And though it might not feel like it, that’s a big step forward for this program.