The Mississippi State Bulldogs have come a long way since those rough losses to Georgia and Auburn. After being blown out by two teams that were more physical and more talented than State was, it was logical to expect that Alabama would be able to line up on the field and repeat exactly what UGA and Auburn did.
Except, that wasn’t the case.
Mississippi State, from the start to the finish, gave the Crimson Tide everything it could handle. The Bulldogs matched Nick Saban’s team score for score and punch for punch throughout the entirety of the game. And this game became the highest rated cable game of the entirety of the college football season up to this point:
ESPN says Alabama-Mississippi State was the highest rated CABLE game of the CFB regular season: 3.8 overnight.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) November 12, 2017
This was a game where the improbable was accomplished. Nick Fitzgerald, Aeris Williams, and the bulky mass that was State’s offensive line were hellbent on pushing through a defense that had previously allowed roughly 70 yards per game on the ground. The Bulldogs ended up gaining 174 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground.
That wasn’t all that the offense did either. With three of State’s best receivers missing from the game due to injury, Fitzgerald went on to have an efficient passing night, 13 of 24 for 158 yards to 10 different receivers. No receiver had more than two receptions on the night. Deddrick Thomas, a sophomore, had two receptions for 30 yards. Reggie Todd, a freshman, had two receptions for 25 yards. Keith Mixon, a sophomore, had a reception for 20 yards. Farrod Green, a sophomore, had two receptions for 24 yards and a beautiful block right here:
Reason No. 834 why I love Farrod Green: He doesn’t want the ball when Fitz scrambles here. He wants Fitz to run so he can block. pic.twitter.com/rhVgX5naUA— Brett Hudson (@Brett_Hudson) November 12, 2017
With injuries abundant, Fitzgerald was able to trust the bulk of his receivers thanks to younger guys stepping up and making plays. In a game like this, being able to hit a multitude of targets and not have to rely solely on one receiver is an incredible thing. Especially when you’re missing Donald Gray, Gabe Myles, and Malik Dear.
And though the secondary was torched and the run defense was gashed late in the 4th, the defense still showed up and quieted Nick Saban’s squad for as long as it could. Calvin Ridley was a damn nightmare for the Bulldogs, racking up 5 receptions for an insane 171 yards on Saturday night. He was really the only receiver that Jalen Hurts trusted and could go to routinely, albeit, he was more than enough. There were 4 other receivers that combined for 71 yards and a touchdown off of 5 receptions.
That said, Hurts had a hard time in other areas of the game. Alabama’s quarterback was sacked 5 times throughout the game and held to a grand total of 40 rushing yards on 19 carries. But, it was the big plays between Hurts and Ridley that really made the difference on Saturday night.
And those big plays are what ultimately cost the Bulldogs. That, and to an extent, the relative inability to move the ball late in the 4th quarter. But Mississippi State played well. Incredibly well, if we’re being completely honest. Better than any other team had against Alabama since Clemson defeated them in the national title at the end of last season.
This team, on Saturday night, proved that they have the potential to match up physically against far more talented teams. They proved that they can contend with the best teams in the nation. They proved that they’ve come a long way since getting blown out by Georgia and Auburn.
They proved that next season, a year where they return over 30 seniors, can be a very special year.