MSU Armchair QB: Midget Fight Edition

Oct 22, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Malik Dear (22) runs the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats in the first half at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 22, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Malik Dear (22) runs the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats in the first half at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports /

Saturday night’s game between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Kentucky Wildcats was a battle of the SEC’s two midgets over who was taller.

Neither team is good right now, neither wanted to win, but someone had to. It turned out to be the Cats, 40-38. Here’s what I saw:


1. State’s D was awful. There’s just no other way to say. It had a couple of good moments, but neither the stats nor the scoreboard lie. State gave up 33 to a team that has struggled to score the ball all season. UK & State are two of four teams tied at #79 in points per game (PPG), averaging 26.7 PPG.

The Dogs gave up 554 total yards. UK averages 375 YPG. State gave up 292 yards passing and 262 yards rushing. UK ran 77 plays and had the ball almost 33 minutes.

2. The Dawgs tackling was horrendous all night. State missed tackle after tackle, allowing UK a ton of YAC. For a defensive philosophy predicated on bend but don’t break, this D gives up big plays entirely too often. Why? Missed tackles. An 8 yard gain turns into a 20 yard gain because we tried to knock down a guy instead of wrapping up and getting him on the ground.

3. Don’t even get me started on the secondary. Pretty sure I could get out there and throw for 200 against us. We’re a busted coverage factory in the back end.

4. The lone bright spot are turnovers. State forced two more on Saturday night. Johnathan Calvin had a strip sack that was recovered by Marquiss Spencer. One of the key plays of the night came in the 4th quarter when true freshman Jeffery Simmons forced another fumble that was picked up and returned for a TD by Mark McLaurin.

5. It’s never good when your seniors and key players have no impact. AJ Jefferson failed to record a tackle against the Cats and was a complete non-factor.

6. If anyone one the D had a good game, it was Calvin. He finished with 7 total tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and 1 PBU.

7. Mark McLaurin continues to be inconsistent, as you’d expect from a first time sophomore starter. He busted the coverage on the UK reverse pass that went for a TD in the 3rd quarter. But he also had the TD return. We just gotta keep putting him out there and letting him play through it.

8. Gerri Green had a good night from a tackles standpoint with 8 total, 5 solo. But it’s hard to remember him making any sort of real impact play.

Special Teams:

1. Special teams was pretty solid for a change. They didn’t make any big plays, but they didn’t give up any. I’ll take it.

2. Westin Graves nailed his only FG attempt of the night and was a perfect 5/5 on PAT attempts. Nice game from him.

3. Logan Cooke was still a little off. He had 6 punts for 226 yards, averaging 37.7 YPP. Not great, but not terrible. He also pinned one inside the 20. Still, it’s not what we’ve come to expect from Cooke. I wonder if he isn’t still battling whatever injury that kept him from performing his KO duties a few weeks ago. It would certainly explain the shanks, inconsistency, and lack of bombs from him lately.


1. Offense was better on Saturday. They did enough to win, scoring 31 of State’s 38 points. I still won’t say the offense was good, though. The Dawgs gained just 362 total yards, failing to crack the 400 yard benchmark for the third week straight. State’s passing offense was inept, managing just 81 yards. The good news is State’s rushing offense was much better, piling up 281 yards and averaging 7.2 YPC.

2. QB Nick Fitzgerald had a poor night throwing. He finished 13/21 passings for just 81 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. The completion percentage looks good at 61.9%. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Fitz averaged just 3.9 yards per pass, completing virtually nothing downfield.

Fitz did have a good night rushing, though. He went for 107 yards on 16 attempts, averaging 6.7 YPC. He rushed for 2 TDs and had a long rush of 38. Most of those carries were designed runs. We’re finally starting to use his legs more effectively.

Perhaps most importantly was Fitz’s final drive. State got the ball back with about 6:45 left in the game. Fitz proceeded to lead the offense on a 14 play, 77 yard drive that ate up over 5:30. The drive culminated in a go ahead TD that looked to be the game winner. The score came on a Fitz throw from the pocket to Fred Ross. Most impressive was Fitz’s composure on the play. Third down and in a 5 wide set, a blitzing LB came free on the play. Instead of panicking, Fitz stood tall, stepped into his throw, threw a strike to Ross, and took the shot from the ‘backer. That’s big time, folks. We saw Fitz grow up some on that possession.

Fitz still has a long way to go, but we should all feel better about him after that drive. It was clutch.  Fitz needs to work on getting through his progressions faster. His slow reads of the field are a major reason for his inaccuracy. His footwork still needs improvement. He also needs to work on speeding up his release. It’s not Tim Tebow slow, but it’s not all that fast, either. It’s another reason his accuracy is suffering. There’s nothing he can’t improve, but it’s going to take a lot of work outside practice and a lot more time in the film room.

3. Fred Ross had a good night, hauling in 5 passes for 50 yards and a TD. But most notably, he broke the MSU record for career receptions. Every reception the rest of the season will now extend his lead in that department. I’m not sure he can get to the career receiving yards record, but it isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility.

4. Keith Mixon continues to show his game breaking speed and play making ability. He was the only WR other than Ross to record more than 1 catch, hauling in 2 passes for 20 yards. He had a long reception of 22, but was stuffed for a loss on his other reception. His biggest play was a 45 yard KO return.  We need to keep getting him the ball.

5. The running backs had a good night overall. Let’s take a look at each individually:

a. Malik Dear: He was mostly used as a RB on Saturday night and responded with a big game. He had 5 rushes for 77 yards, 1 TD, and a long of 45. He broke 3 tackles at the line of scrimmage on his long TD run, then showed his speed and elusivity once he got into the open field. Feed this man the ball.

b. Ashton Shumpert: Shump had just 2 carries but gained 27 yards. He ran hard and gained 15 and 12 on his two carries.

c. Dontavian Lee: D-Lee finally got competitive carries outside of garbage time. Unfortunately, it was just two of them. He ran hard, but the holes just weren’t there for him, as he managed just 8 yards. I still want to see him get 10+ carries to see what he can do.

d. Nick Gibson: We finally had a Nick Gibson sighting! Nick was finally given an opportunity and he made the most of it. Gibson had 24 yards on 5 carries, averaging 4.8 YPC. His long run was just 8, but that tells me he was consistently grinding out 4+ yards on his carries instead of getting his yards on 1-2 carries with the rest being for a minimal gain. He showed the burst and vision I saw from him in the spring game earlier in the year. Got a feeling this guy could wind up being the bellcow back we’ve been missing, if we’ll give him the opportunity.

e. Aeris Williams: Aeris had a decent night as the feature back in the absence of Brandon Holloway. He had 8 carries and 36 yards, averaging 4.5 YPC. That’s a livable average in the SEC. What I do like is that he’s physical and falls forward after contact. If we aren’t going to try D-Lee or Gibson, I can live with us feeding Aeris. So long as we don’t go back to Holloway between the tackles, the running game should continue to be productive.

6. Offensive line had a decent night. I don’t remember Fitz having taking a sack on a lookout block. And they clearly created some room to run up front, as evidenced by State’s 7.2 YPR. It helps them that we’re finally using the big backs and reincorporating the read option with Fitz.

Must Read: Dan Mullen era trends are falling by the wayside


1. I thought MSU HC Dan Mullen did a good job until the last minute plus. Then he horribly mismanaged the clock and the game. I believe for the most part Mullen called a good game. He finally committed to run the “darn” football and it nearly paid off in a win. State ran 60 plays and rushed it 39 times to 21 passes. That’s a 65/35 run/pass split. Much better than we’ve been seeing.

You could still quibble a little with the play calling in the redzone on the final drive. We were gashing them on the ground, then we go 5 wide. To be fair, we had a matchup in the 5 wide set that helped us get down there in the first place. Ross was making plays from the trips left inside slot. UK didn’t ever adjust and kept trying to cover him with their nickel. If they don’t adjust, keep going to it until they stop it.

Mullen’s clock management in the last minute was horrendous. We went home without icing the kicker with 2 timeouts in our pocket. That’s inexcusable. Also worth noting, if we run a couple of times instead of throwing it 3 times in a row on the goal line, we probably chew up most of the clock before the go ahead score. I don’t know why, but Mullen hates using timeouts. But there’s no excuse for not using at least one TO to ice the kicker. None.

2. If I blame MSU DC Peter Sirmon for anything, it’s the prevent D on the last drive. I’ll never understand why DC’s keep playing prevent with a small lead late in games. All it does is prevent you from winning. Put the pressure on and make them make a play to beat you.

That said, I don’t understand all the griping about Sirmon. These players are on their 7th DC in 8 seasons. No one can perform when the system is constantly changing. You’re constantly thinking instead of just playing. And frankly, the overall concept hasn’t changed under Mullen. He dictates a bend but don’t break style and expects his DC to implement it.

Ask yourself why Geoff Collins has gone on to be so successful at FL after looking poor under Mullen. Ditto Manny Diaz at Miami. Firing Sirmon won’t fix the root problem: Mullen micromanaging his DC, holding the DC to unrealistic expectations, and changing them every year. Until we stop the revolving door and give someone complete control on that side without interference, expect more of the same.

3. There still hasn’t been a player step up and lead. Everyone is looking at someone else instead of grabbing the bull by the horns.

4. I don’t know what was going on, but there were a ton of injuries in the game for both teams. Seemed like every time I turned around there was another player down. I don’t know if it was conditioning, the weather, or what, but State had some players go down in some areas that were already hit hard in OL and DB specifically.

5. Thoughts and prayers with the Darryl Williams family. Hail State football tweeted out all tests were negative and he was being sent back to Starkville yesterday. Good news, but it was a scary sight.

Final Thoughts:

This week further showed how far this program has fallen. Mullen and the #CountryClub’s lack of recruiting is showing up, especially in the secondary and on the OL. All the misses at CB & OL have caught up. This isn’t getting better anytime soon.

We need to keep running the ball with the big backs on O. Limit Fitz having to throw. On D, there aren’t any easy answers. Honestly, I’d scrap most of whatever we’re doing at practice and do nothing but tackling drills. Getting our tackling fixed will go the furthest. And we can’t have anymore games where an AJ Jefferson doesn’t even show up. The few talented guys we have absolutely must have an impact the rest of the way.

Don’t sleep on Samford. We probably should win, but they’re coming in at 6-1. If we aren’t ready to play, don’t be shocked if this one is close late or we find a way to lose. 3-9 is now the absolute ceiling for this team with 2-10 the worst case scenario.

I hate all the doom and gloom, but when you get outplayed by UK, there aren’t a whole lot of reasons for optimism.

Hail State!