Kneauxing the Enemy 2018
4-2 Overall, 1-2 in SEC
Mississippi State opened the football season with three straight wins. The victories were over Stephen F. Austin, Kansas State, and Louisiana Lafayette, by a combined score of 150-26, but then, the Bulldogs started SEC play. Since then, they have gone 1-2, with losses to Kentucky and Florida, with a win over Auburn. During the three game SEC stretch, the leading offensive threat for the Bulldogs was field goal kicker Jace Christmann, with five field goals in the three games. Mississippi State scored three touchdowns in the three SEC contests, all by junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. State did not throw a touchdown pass in the three games.
On defense, in the last two contests against Florida and Auburn, the Bulldogs gave up over 200 yards in the air. However, since the start of league action, the Bulldogs have gotten stingier, game by game, in rushing defense. In the first league game, in a lost to Kentucky, they gave up 229 yards on the ground, most of it to Benny Snell. In the second league game, in a loss to Florida, they allowed 118 yards rushing. In their third SEC contest, in a win, they limited Auburn to 90 yards running the ball.
On offense, Tigers fans need no introduction to Fitzgerald. Last year Fitzgerald ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns against the Purple and Gold. He also threw for 180 yards and one touchdown. Senior Aeris Williams, who ran for 146 yards against LSU last season, is back. This year sophomore Kylin Hill has joined Fitzgerald and Williams in the Bulldog backfield. Hill ran for 126 yards in their last game against Auburn. Fitzgerald rushed for 195 yards against Auburn.
The Bulldogs have not done much through the air in conference play, but it does not mean they are not capable of passing. Junior tight end Farrod Green is a three-year starter, who is a good blocker in the Mississippi State run-pass option (RPO) offense. Senior Justin Johnson is another tight end who plays frequently in the MSU offense.
Sophomore Osirus Mitchell and junior Stephen Guidry have been the two primary receivers for State this season, but they have not stood out in conference play, so far.
Once again the Purple and Gold is facing a team with two solid quarterbacks. Sophomore Keytaon Thompson played for an injured Fitzgerald in last season’s Taxslayer Bowl, and ran for 147 yards in a win over Louisville. Thompson also started in a victory against Stephen F. Austin earlier this season for a suspended Fitzgerald, and accumulated for 473 yards of total offense, 364 through the air.
The Bulldogs return four starters on the offensive line who started in all the games last season. Two of the starters, senior center Elgton Jenkins and senior right guard Deion Calhoun, did not allow a sack for the entire 2017 season.
The Bulldogs play three good down linemen. Senior defensive end Montez Sweat has 7.5 sacks for the season. Junior interior lineman Jeffery Simmons, a preseason All-American, has 8.5 tackles for losses (tfls) for the year. Senior defensive end Gerri Green has 2.5 sacks for the season. Junior backup defensive end Chauncey Rivers has four tfls this campaign. Sophomore middle linebacker Erroll Thompson has 2.5 tfls and junior weakside linebacker Leo Lewis has 2.5 tfls for the season. The Bulldogs play many on defense.
Senior strong safety Johnathan Abram, the second leading tackler on the team last year, leads the team in stops with 43, 23 solo. Senior free safety Mark McLaurin, who led the team last campaign in tackles, is the second leading tackler on the team this season, with 38, 22 solos, and three stops for losses.
The Bulldogs are eighth in the land in total defense, allowing 115.3 yards rushing per game, and 3.39 per run. It appears to be easier to throw on them.
It is easy to look by this team with Alabama lurking in two weeks. However, it is also easy for the Purple and Gold to remember, the makeup of this team is basically the same as the squad which demolished them last year in Starkville.