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Previewing Mississippi State at Alabama: The Bulldogs Offense

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It’s a good thing that Joe Moorhead’s crew can play some defense.

Mississippi State is having another strong season, particularly by its standards, thanks to an elite defense that has allowed the fewest TDs in the country.

This offense, though? Hold your nose, the cover photo is apropos.

In five SEC games thus far, the Mississippi State offense has managed a whopping 13.4 points per game and thrice has failed to get into double digits. In those five games they have passed for a total of 612 yards on 121 attempts, putting QB Nick Fitzgerald at #110 out of 117 qualifiers in passer rating. They have been passable running the ball in SEC play, averaging 170 yards a game on 4.6 per carry, though those numbers are inflated by a 349 yard explosion against Auburn (lol).

The cast of characters:

Quarterback

#7 Nick Fitzgerald - 6’5”, 230 lb. SR

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Fitzgerald has had a tough senior campaign after working hard to recover from a gruesome dislocated ankle suffered in last season’s Egg Bowl. His total passing yardage against Florida, Auburn and LSU was 98, 69, and 59 yards respectively. He did put up a surprising 249 yards through the air against Texas A&M, though 84 of it came late when the Aggies played soft on a 3rd-and-21, only to allow WR Stephen Guidry to catch a dig on the right hash, cross the field and run another 70 yards down the left sideline. That game was considered a bounce-back for Nick after fans had been calling for his benching. He did have a solid day against Louisiana Tech last week as well.

Fitzgerald will force a defense to maintain gap integrity, as we saw last season when Alabama’s decimated linebacker corps got abused in Starkville. He has run the ball 155 times for 830 yards, by far the leading rusher on the team. He runs a lot of zone read stuff, both midline and IZR, but you will also see some QB power. In general, maintain run fits and press his WRs, and you can essentially snuff out the entire offense.

Oh, we are unlikely to see him on Saturday as he appears to be taking a redshirt and has already seen some action, but their third string QB is true freshman Jalen Mayden, younger brother of Jared.

Running Backs

#8 Kylin Hill - 5’11”, 215 lb. SO

#26 Aeris Williams - 6’1”, 215 lb. SR

NCAA Football: Auburn at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Williams was sixth in the SEC last season with 1,107 yards on 236 carries, but the senior has watched former four-star sophomore Hill (above) take the lead role this season. Hill seems to have a bit more breakaway speed and is utilized more in the passing game. On the season, he has 81 rushes for 536 yards and another 141 on 16 receptions. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, Hill suffered what appeared to be a sprained ankle last week and his status is uncertain for Saturday.

Williams has been efficient in his senior season, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt on his 46 carries. If he is forced into a starting role this week you can bet that the Tide will be keying on him after his 97 yard, two TD performance against Alabama last season. Of course, both of these backs combined have fewer total touches than Fitzgerald has carries. Junior Nick Gibson and senior Dontavius Lee may see a little action as well.

Pass Catchers

#87 Osiris Mitchell - 6’5”, 210 lb. SO

#1 Stephen Guidry - 6’4”. 190 lb. JR

#2 Deddrick Thomas - 5’9”, 190 lb. JR

#85 Austin Williams - 6’3”, 205 lb. RS FR

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Mississippi State Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

This is a fairly prototypical group, with lots of length outside and a quick slot receiver in Thomas. Guidry (above) probably has the most talent of the group after transferring in as the top JUCO WR in the nation. As mentioned above, however, this passing game has struggled mightily and it shows up in the numbers. Mitchell leads the team in receptions with only 20 in nine games, and the top four have combined for a meager 58. When your top four receivers are averaging a combined six catches per contest, you have problems.

The Bulldogs start senior Justin Johnson at tight end, and he has hauled in ten receptions for 160 yards while mostly being used as a blocker. Johnson is the nephew of Alabama fan extraordinaire Jermaine “Funnymaine” Johnson.

Summary

The Bulldogs basically live on the zone read/RPO game that the Tide defense sees in practice every week. They have shown an offensive pulse the last two games, scoring 28 and 42 at home vs. Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech, though they still struggled to move the ball on the Aggies with 160 of their 384 total yards coming on two big plays late in the game. Considering the way they have struggled against the better defenses, and particularly on the road, it’s tough to imagine this group putting up much more than ten points before garbage time in Tuscaloosa.