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Stick with Nick

Nick Fitzgerald’s remarkable performance against Texas A&M silences many critics calling for him to be benched

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Mississippi State Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

I think we may have figured out how to get a balanced performance on the ground and in the air from Nick Fitzgerald... just tell him we are playing Texas A&M every week! Nick Fitzgerald, once again, dominated on the field against the Aggies and the Bulldogs were able to pull off the upset of #16 Texas A&M 28-13. Fitzgerald is now 3-0 against the Texas A&M Aggies as a starter, and all three times the Aggies were ranked in the top 25 and ranked higher than the Bulldogs. To say Fitzgerald has been dominant against Texas A&M is an understatement... he has downright owned the Aggies.

I have to admit... I did not like our chances all that much when you considered what we were going up against. Not only was our offense showing no consistency coming into this game, the Aggies defense led the nation in rush defense and 3rd down defense. Rushing the ball has been the only consistent part of our offense and 3rd downs have been a killer for our offense, especially in passing situations.

Coming into this game Fitzgerald’s completion percentage on 3rd down was an abysmal 36.5% with just 1 TD pass and 6 interceptions... those were some very concerning numbers to say the least. However, on this night, Nick Fitzgerald redeemed himself on 3rd down in a huge way. Fitzgerald was able to go 6 for 7 passing with 188 yards and 2 touchdowns on 3rd down against the nations best defense at getting off the field on 3rd down. The Bulldogs ended up being able to convert 3rd downs into 1st downs 7 out of 12 times overall on the night. Folks... that is an unbelievable turnaround for this offense.

Nick Fitzgerald’s passing game had been so bad recently that many were speculating that a change at signal caller was coming soon. While I believe we need to see this more consistently, I believe it is safe to say he quieted a lot of doubters with his performance. Fitzgerald finished the night with 329 total yards, 241 passing and 88 rushing, while accounting for all 4 Touchdowns on the night with 2 rushing and 2 passing. This was without a doubt a sight for sore eyes for the Bulldogs faithful and a good sign that things may finally be falling into place for this offense.

I believe we all felt the first drive of the game for the Bulldogs offense was extremely important considering how stagnant the offense had been recently. Fitzgerald came out looking like his old self by making some great throws and good runs while driving down the field. As soon as the Bulldogs got into a 3rd and long situation at the Aggies 25 yard line I couldn’t help but think, here we go again... but Fitzgerald quickly turned concern into celebration by making a fantastic throw to Stephen Guidry in the corner of the end zone for a 25 yard TD pass for the first points of the game. As good as the throw was, Guidry made an outstanding catch with tight coverage and managed to get a foot down which immediately ignited the crowd into a frenzy. It set the tone and the Bulldogs gained much needed early momentum. However, that TD would be the only score of the first half for the Bulldogs and the offense stalled during several drives that started well but could never put the Bulldogs in position to score.

Texas A&M was able to score a late TD with under 30 seconds left in the half to take a 10-7 lead into halftime. When the Bulldogs received the ball to open the 2nd half everyone knew they needed to regain momentum and like the first drive of the first half, the first drive of the second half ended with another critical 3rd down and long touchdown pass from Nick Fitzgerald. This time he hit Osirus Mitchell for a 38 yard TD pass who made several outstanding catches in this game, including a one-handed grab during the first drive of the game.

The Aggies later cut the lead to 1 point for the Bulldogs with a FG to make the score 14-13 with under 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. The next drive for the Bulldogs started terrible, with Fitzgerald taking a sack that resulted in a 12 yard loss. The next play Fitzgerald ran the ball for just 1 yard and the Bulldogs were left facing 3rd and 21 from the Bulldogs own 15 yard line. Pretty sure everyone thought our chances at converting were very slim, even with the success we had earlier in the game, 3rd and 21 is asking a lot from an offense that had struggled all year throwing the ball down field. What came next was without a doubt the turning point and the play of the game. Nick Fitzgerald extended the play by rolling right while keeping his eyes down field and was able to find an open Stephen Guidry running towards the middle of the field. Fitzgerald was able to throw across his body while moving right and put the football right where he needed to. Guidry used his speed to do the rest. Not only did Guidry reach the first down marker, he was able to turn on the jets and take the ball all the way down to the 1 yard line on the 84 yard reception which ended up being the last play of the 3rd quarter. Fitzgerald ran the ball in for the TD and extended the Bulldogs lead by 8 points a couple of plays later. I cannot express how important that play was. Had we not converted we would have had to punt the ball back to the Aggies with only a 1 point lead. Instead, the Bulldogs delivered and regained the momentum to start the 4th quarter.

Later in the 4th quarter the Bulldogs defense was able to force the Aggies to go for it on 4th down with under 3 minutes to go in the game from the Bulldogs 11 yard line and Errol Thompson was able to intercept Kellen Monds pass in the end zone to put the Bulldogs just 1 first down away from claiming victory. On the second play of the drive Nick Fitzgerald decided to do better than that. Fitzgerald fooled the Aggies defensive backfield on a QB counter and with a couple of perfect blocks a huge hole opened up and Fitzgerald was able to run the ball 76 yards for a touchdown that put a dagger into Texas A&M.

I have to commend Nick Fitzgerald for what he did Saturday night. He knew what was being said about him throughout the fan base and media. Even his coach hinted at a change when he announced Keytaon Thompson would play in this game during the first series of the 2nd quarter. Heck, even I wrote in my most recent article that a change was needed if he could not find some balance against Texas A&M early. The constant concerns at the QB position were absolutely justified and nobody has been more critical on his play than himself. He knew he needed to find a way to to get the passing game going and he knew the starting job was on the line. So many college QB’s crumble under so much pressure but Fitzgerald delivered in such a big way and has at least for now shown he the one that needs to lead this team. When he plays like he did Saturday night, I truly believe this team can beat anyone. Some may raise an eye brow on that comment I just made considering a certain team left on our schedule, but with a performance like that we would at least be able to keep up with them. Fitzgerald deserves a ton of praise for his redemptive performance and I for one could not be more proud of how he answered the challenge. With just 4 games left in the season the Bulldogs have a chance to salvage this season and if Fitzgerald can throw the ball accurately with some consistency I have no doubt we can make it to a respectable bowl game. With all of that said, all I can say is... Stick with Nick.

Hail State!