Now that the grieving period has passed and a hopeful outlook for the future has taken its place, it is time to close the book on the Dan Mullen era. Mississippi State reached a level of success under Mullen that has never been achieved in Starkville. It is undeniable that he set a solid foundation that will not be easily compromised or fractured, and the hire of the arguably more creative mind in Joe Moorhead gives State fans reason to not dwell on the past but to rather look forward to more of that success going forward. Now let’s close the book on the 2017 season and take a look back on what worked, what didn’t, and what can be improved heading into the much-anticipated 2018 season.
Obviously the first item to address was the lack of improvement in the passing game with Nick Fitzgerald. Yes, there was a lack of overall talent in the receiving corps, but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that Fitz missed several open targets every game that a starter in the SEC just can’t miss if you want to compete in the SEC West. For the year, Fitz completed just 54 percent of his passes. In wins that number grew to 60 percent, which is where he at least needs to be next year, but in the losses that number dropped to an abysmal 44 percent. There is no denying that Fitzgerald is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country at the most important position, and with a staff full of new blood and personalities, along with the big time receivers coming in recruiting, I look forward to seeing major improvement next season that will elevate Fitz to consideration by some NFL scouts and teams.
Next, let’s take a look at the direct beneficiary of the passing game. Receiving. As you would imagine, with a quarterback that only completed 54 percent of his passes and averaged just 161 yards per game, there is a lot to be desired on the receiving end. There was definitely a drop off in talent and size that hindered the passing and receiving games that was well documented throughout the season. Against AP ranked teams the receiving corps averaged a measly 120 yards per game but against non-conference opponents that number jumped to 182 yards per game. It is well known that State historically plays a weak non-conference schedule to prepare for the grind of the SEC west, but even that number leaves much room for improvement which the new recruiting class full of talented wide receivers should help with immediately, and with the help of Moorhead’s creative and explosive offense we should see a nice spike in production next year.
Finally, the most productive and reliable aspect of MSU’s offensive attack has always been the running game. State solidified itself as one of the top rushing attacks in the conference under the tutelage of Dan Mullen and will only improve under the Moorhead offense. In 2017 the running game averaged 240 yards per game, which translates to 271 ypg in wins and 209 in losses. In college you can rely a little more on the run game when the passing game isn’t clicking, but last year in big games State was forced to lean heavily on the run game and in turn, led to just 166 yards per game versus AP ranked teams. Just look to the Auburn and Georgia games to see what I am talking about. All in all, State has always had a stud workhorse back and that continues with the stable of running backs at Moorhead’s disposal. The one aspect no MSU fan should ever have to worry about is the running game. It will always be productive and this year should showcase Moorhead’s play calling abilities along with the pure talent in the backfield.
With that being said, literally every aspect of State’s football program drastically improved over the last nine years, and with the help of a great incoming recruiting class that is so far addressing all of our pressing needs, the future actually looks brighter post Dan Mullen, which is something I never would have said a few years ago. There is plenty to look forward to next season, now let’s just get through the dog days of winter and look forward to spring practices, where I would imagine they could sell tickets if the staff really wanted to. I am excited, hopeful, and cautiously optimistic for the next chapter of Mississippi State Football. Go Dawgs and Hail State.