After the last 2 weeks of Mississippi State Football, I knew this game against #8 Auburn was extremely vital for this season. 3 straight SEC losses in a row? Yeah... not good. I stated the last 2 weeks that the fans would need to show up and create an electric atmosphere for our Bulldogs after disappointing losses and the team would need to play to level we know they are capable of. Last week the fans did just that but the Bulldogs failed to deliver. This week however, both delivered. My chest and throat hurts, I can barely talk. Thankfully all I need to do here is type. My hand has a blister from ringing my cowbell so much and it hurts as well... and it hurts oh so good! Our Bulldogs delivered in a big way by winning 23-9 against #8 Auburn, and they finally did what we have been begging them to do considering our passing attack has had little consistency... RUN THE BALL AND RUN SOME MORE... and wow, running the ball is exactly what they did and then some...
Mississippi State ran the ball for a whopping 350 yards with an average of over 6 yards per carry against a defense that had not allowed more than 93 yards in a game this season. The Bulldogs ran the ball like men possessed and they earned yard after yard with authority and attitude all night. Nick Fitzgerald clearly did what he does best by running the ball 28 times for 195 yards and 2 Touchdowns against a defensive line that was considered one of the best in the nation coming into this season. Fitzgerald’s big night on the ground also led to him breaking the All-Time SEC rushing record for a QB which was previously held by SEC Legend Tim Tebow... I think it’s fair to say that is a tremendous accomplishment especially when you consider who held the record previously. Running back Kylin Hill also had a great night on the ground with 126 yards on 23 carries. I have to commend Kylin Hill for running the ball the way he did. He ran the ball with so much intensity and fought for every single inch he got. I absolutely loved watching him run the ball with so much tenacity.
If there is one position group that showed the most improvement from last week to this week it is without a doubt the Bulldogs offensive line. Fitzgerald gave them much deserved praise and credit for his big night after the game and he was absolutely correct. The OL won the battle in the trenches against a very talented Auburn defensive line that consists of a couple future NFL draft picks. The push they were able to get off the ball was vital and is indeed the reason why the Bulldogs were able to pull off the upset over the Tigers. Without that tremendous improvement that game would have been a very long one for all of us, but they got the job done and deserve a ton of praise.
Once again the defense must be mentioned for their incredible performance. The defense was also a huge factor as they prevented the Stidham led Auburn Tigers from ever reaching the end zone, and trust me... they were extremely close to reaching the end zone a couple of times. No play was bigger than the one the defense made with the Bulldogs up 16-6 and Auburn driving on 3rd and 2 from the Bulldogs 43 yard line with just over 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. JaTarvious Whitlow broke through the secondary for 42 yards in what appeared to be a certain TD for Auburn but Maurice Smitherman and Mark McLaurin were able to chase him down and force a fumble just inches from the goal line into the end zone and resulted in a touch back. I cannot overstate how important that play was and both defenders deserve a ton of credit for not giving up on a play that looked like an easy TD. If they do not force that fumble it turns into a 3 point game with an entire 4th quarter left to play and gives Auburn a ton of momentum. Instead, the momentum shifted right back to the Bulldogs and momentum was a huge factor in a game filled with up and down moments. You could see how badly this team wanted to win and the defense never let up throughout the entire game. Even when momentum shifted to Auburn on an interception, a turnover on downs and a blocked FG they refused to let Auburn into the end zone.
As unbalanced as our Bulldogs offense had been the last couple of weeks we were all hoping to be able to get the run game going which would hopefully open up the pass game. Even though Fitzgerald had a big night on the ground, he once again could not find consistency in the air. On the second drive of the game for the Bulldogs offense Fitzgerald threw a hair pulling interception right to Jeremiah Dinson in Bulldog territory that set up Auburn’s first FG of the game. After that play I believe it is safe to say that most of us thought “here we go again” and did not have confidence in our passing game. I kept saying I wanted to see more shots down field or more run pass options hoping it would at least make Auburn think we might throw the ball, but Fitzgerald was able to get the run game going with Kylin Hill alongside him. So as the old saying goes... if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Fitzgerald looked like his normal self on the ground and that is what we needed so badly from him in this game and future games this season. Don’t get me wrong though, if we even want to begin to think we can compete with teams like Alabama Fitzgerald has to find a way to be more consistent in the air. Still, we should be encouraged by his ability to run the ball like he did last night. Even when Auburn and the rest of the world knew we would be running the ball they just simply could not stop it. Joe Moorhead finally turned Fitzgerald loose on the ground and the run schemes Moorhead came up with when Kylin Hill motioned into the backfield beside Fitzgerald just seemed to work over and over again. We dared Auburn to stop the run and proceeded to run it down their throat.
We are all hoping this is a sign of things to come and there is no reason for us to not be excited with the revival of our ground game. Yes we still have several areas to work on, but if the offensive line can continue to play that way it will gives our Bulldogs a great chance to win ball games. Seeing them come into this game with so much intensity was a sight for sore eyes and this win is without a doubt a very special win for Joe Moorhead in his season debut with Mississippi State. We needed this win very badly, and with their backs against the wall this team came out and played their hearts out. This game was the shot in the arm Bulldogs nation needed and the turnout at Davis Wade let our Bulldogs know we are behind them 100% and every step of the way no matter the result. As the late Jack Cristil always said, “Wrap this one in Maroon and White” Bulldogs, get some rest during the bye week and get ready for a big one in Baton Rouge.