I spoke with Evan over at When the Cowbell Tolls about his thoughts on their team and the game. I generally enjoy interacting with the MSU fanbase. Enjoy!
Brent: After mirroring Jalen Hurts’ stats almost perfectly last year (with slightly better running and slightly less effective passing), Nick Fitzgerald looks to be doing the same thing again, compared to Hurts stat-wise. We Alabama fans have seen a lot of improvement between year 1 and year 2 with Hurts, particularly in the limiting turnovers department. How would you say that Fitzgerald has changed from last year?
Evan: First, I think it's as simple as Fitzgerald is a year older, a year more experienced and one year that he has had to mature as a starting SEC quarterback. I also think that Dan Mullen has developed a better understanding of what Fitzgerald does well as a QB. Mullen has placed a certain emphasis on keeping a majority of his attempts under 20 yards, and even more so on throws in the 0-10 yard range. Fitzgerald is not an elite passer and I'm certainly not here to tell you anything in the contrary, but he understands this and has really cut back on his "YOLO" balls (essentially only throws that only Russell Wilson could make) and sticks to passes that he knows have a high percentage of completion.
Brent: The State defense is doing quite well this season, limiting opponents to 165 yards of passing per game and a paltry 3.7 yards per carry in the run game. Of the three position groups: defensive line, linebackers, secondary- which is your strongest? Weakest?
Evan: I would say probably our strongest group is our defensive line, followed up by the linebackers and the secondary as a distant third. The DLine has been an integral role in being so effective versus the run by being some of the fastest guys off the ball, as a group, I have seen at MSU in a long time. They do a great job identifying favorable matchups and working those guys snap after snap. Our Secondary has truly been the liability of our defense, as we have seen throughout the season so far, giving up explosive plays in extremely inopportune times (ex. the opening snap of the UGA game.) I expect the deep balls to be flying against the Bulldogs to see how much they'll bend before they break.
Brent: Senior receiver Donald Gray seems to be the most trusted target, while Keith Mixon is maybe the most explosive. However, I’ve seen that both are dealing with injuries of some sort. Will they play this week? If so, what are their roles, and what impact would it have if either does not play?
Evan: As far as the status of their injuries, I have honestly no idea because there are few things Dan Mullen hates talking about more than injuries. But, if they both play and are fully healthy, it should provide some much needed help for the offense against Alabama. Donald Gray has been Fitzgerald's best form of a safety net, but what Mixon's strength is his ability create something out of nothing. Mixon's field vision is what makes him probably the third most explosive player on the offense after QB1 and Aeris Williams.
Brent: What is the general state of your fanbase and opinion of the program right now? Are the fans happy with the season so far, or disgruntled?
Evan: If you're an MSU fan and you're not excited about the potential of a 9 win season and an exceptional bowl placement, then I have absolutely nothing for you. Personally, I'm not sure I've trusted Mullen with the program ever before as much as I do now. He has shown the ability to succeed in even talent-depleted seasons, and he has now started to produce nationally relevant, consistently ranked teams year in and year out. All despite being regularly projected to finish at the bottom of the SEC West almost every year, yet he never has.
Brent: Do you think Bama covers the spread? MSU pulls of the upset? How do you see the game playing out?
Evan: As much as I would love to buy into the idea of the Dawgs pulling off the upset, I just can't do it. To be blunt, I just don't think that position-wise, we don't match up well enough to really cause Alabama some real problems. I do think the speed and explosive nature of MSU's offense will catch the Tide off balance early in the game, but down the stretch I think the defense just gets gassed after being on the field for a majority of the game. I think Alabama wins and covers, but not without causing Crimson Tide fans some real concern in the 1st quarter.
Brent: And finally, the most important question: Should there be more cowbell?