It’s Go Time
All summer long I tried explaining how this team could be special. I thought there were a lot of similarities between this year’s football team and the one Mississippi State fielded in 2014. Yes, the same team that won 10 games and spent five weeks atop the college football rankings. No, there isn’t a Dak Prescott on this team but there may never be another Dak Prescott in the history of Mississippi State. However, Nick Fitzgerald has shown on multiple occasions his ability to break open games with his legs. Now, we all know the quarterback Dak Prescott has become but entering the 2014 season there wasn’t much hype surrounding him, it was his breakout game against LSU that put him on everyone’s watch list. Could we see a repeat scenario with Fitzgerald?
Not all on Fitz shoulders
The quarterback position isn’t the only similarity. Similar to the 2014 season, Mississippi State has a more than a capable running back in Aeris Williams. Through two games Aeris Williams has rushed for 190 yards and is averaging 7.6 yards a carry. When Dan Mullen decides to give Williams a break he can do so knowing he has a stable of running backs. Both Kylin Hill and Nick Gibson are both good options, along with Dontavian Lee. Hill, a true freshman from Columbus, has 124 yards rushing on just 19 carries this season. Dan Mullen must lean heavy on this group of backs if they are going to come away with a win on Saturday.
When comparing this year’s defense to 2014’s I see a lot of resemblance there too. That is saying a lot since there are 5 guys on that 2014 defense currently playing in the NFL. If you haven’t heard me say it before, I’ll say it again, this Mississippi State defense is legit.
Early and often
In 2014 it was the success early in ballgames that helped catapult Mississippi State to number one in the nation. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-0 lead in Baton Rouge. After Texas A&M scored early the Bulldogs scored 28 unanswered point. The Auburn game saw Mississippi State go up 21-0 in less than 10 minutes. If Mississippi State is going to win their ballgame this weekend against LSU they will need to have early success like in 2014.
Before the season began this is the game I circled as the biggest/most important game of our season. Win here and you carry all the momentum into Athens next week, lose here and it could be the start of an 0-3 stretch. In a game this close it is always hard to predict the outcome. It depends on many small factor. One thing I can guarantee is that Bulldog faithful will be out in full force Saturday night and Davis Wade Stadium will be rocking Saturday night.
The way Arkansas looked last weekend against TCU, the way Auburn’s offense has stalled early and Texas A&M already being in their November form this game could decide second place in the SEC West. LSU has owned Mississippi State, winning 16 of the last 17 games between the two schools but Dan Mullen seems to have the blueprint to beat the Tigers, or at least keep them in tight competitive ballgames. The Bulldogs were able to go to Baton Rouge in 2014 and come away with a win and the past two games have been decided by two and three points respectively.
What to watch for on defense
Thanks to an influx of talented transfers this Mississippi State defense is revamped and looks to be the most improved unit in the SEC. But, LSU brings with them arguably the best running back in the conference. Derrius Guice has rushed for 224 yards through the first two games of the season. He runs behind a big physical offensive line and as usual LSU goes as there running goes. While Danny Etling seems to have improved since last year he still isn’t a quarterback that will scare opposing defenses. This is by far the best defense he will have seen so far this year. The State defense will have to put pressure on him and cause him to make mistakes. The Bulldogs should focus on forcing LSU into some third and long situations. That would force Etling to make plays downfield with his arm. You would have to think Todd Grantham’s game plan worked to perfection if they do this.
Speaking of defenses, this game features two of the better defenses in the SEC. Mississippi State leads the country with a 98.5 defensive efficiency. LSU defense leads the country in run defense, allowing only 31.5 yards per game. LSU’s defense will also benefit from the return of their best pass rusher, star Arden Key. In 2016 Key recorded 12 sacks on the season, a LSU single season record. He has been sidelined the first two games recovering from an off-season surgery. There are rumors that Key doesn’t seem to be in game shape and that he is actually walking around about twenty five pounds overweight. It is yet to be determined how many snaps he will actually see. Regardless, having him back doesn’t hurt the Tigers defense.
On the other side of the ball it will be interesting to see if Mississippi State can get anything going with their run game. While State has a talented group of running backs they will also need to rely Nick Fitzgerald’s running game. Last year Fitzgerald only rushed for 13 yards against the Tigers, he will need to improve on those numbers this Saturday. Fitzgerald doesn’t have to be great Saturday night for the Bulldogs to win, he just needs to efficient and not turn the ball over. I believe if Mississippi State can win the turnover battle and hold LSU under 225 yards rushing they should win the ballgame.
I expect this game to be one that has a lot of momentum swings. Don’t expect either team to light up the scoreboard. This will be your old fashion SEC slugfest between two good defenses and two teams that like to run the ball. Mississippi State hasn’t beaten LSU inside Davis Wade Stadium since 1999. But, this year they have the better quarterback and the advantage of home field. I am picking the Bulldogs in a very close game.
Mississippi State 24