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Nick Fitzgerald is the key for Mississippi State's upset chances

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has been one of the lone bright spots for the Mississippi State Bulldogs this season. And come Saturday against Alabama, he is the key to any chances of an upset for the Bulldogs.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Mississippi State Bulldogs--who were 3-5 at the time--did the impossible: beat the then-ranked No. 4 Texas A&M Aggies.

And pretty convincingly too.

Early on, the Bulldogs were dominating the Aggies in all aspects of the game, as the halftime score was 28-14. Although the final score read, 35-28, it was really never close. The Bulldogs put up 574 yards while the Aggies only mustered up 382. But now, Mississippi State has to follow that upset with an even bigger task, as they travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to take on the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

Currently, oddsmakers do not like Mississippi State's chances against the Tide as they sit as a 29-point underdog. And it's not surprising to see why they don't like the Bulldogs' prospects.

Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Joshua Jacobs have played well beyond their years in the crimson and white. Plus, the Tide possess the No. 2-ranked total defense in the nation. However, despite all of this, Mississippi State does have a glimmer of hope to somehow, some way pull off the upset against Alabama. And that small pipe dream lies within quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.

Take a look at the one game the Tide have struggled in all season: The contest against Ole Miss. In that outing, Rebel signal caller Chad Kelly had a field day against the Alabama defense.

Kelly completed 65 percent of his passes (26-of-40) for 421 yards and three touchdowns while adding 43 yards on the ground. Those statistics helped the Rebels lead the Tide for most of that game and assisted Ole Miss in giving Alabama its closest win of the season by just five points. But it's not all that surprising to see Kelly put up such numbers as he was seen as the best quarterback in the SEC before his season-ending ACL injury.

While Kelly has been the best gunslinger the Tide have faced this year, he also has been the most consistent signal caller the Tide have faced all season. The other SEC quarterbacks Alabama has faced (Joshua Dobbs, Austin Allen, Trevor KnightDanny Etling) have all had their ups and down this year. And consistency has been Fitzgerald's biggest weakness this season.

In Mississippi State's double overtime loss to BYU, Fitzgerald threw for 214 yards and then followed up that performance by only throwing for a mere 81 yards in a loss to Kentucky. He has also completed an uninspiring 56 percent of his passes and has thrown eight interceptions over the past five games. However, over the past couple weeks, the 6-foot-5 sophomore quarterback has found his groove through the air.

In the last two outings for Mississippi State against Samford and Texas A&M, Fitzgerald has thrown for 626 yards and seven touchdowns. That is, by far, the best two-game stretch for Fitzgerald this year.

While the Bulldog signal caller has shown tremendous improvement through the air the past two weeks, he possesses an ability that all of the quarterbacks who have faced the Tide this year have failed to or have inconsistently shown: running the ball.

Fitzgerald has been one of the best dual-threat signal callers this season. The Richmond Hill, Georgia native is fifth in the SEC with 839 rushing yards and is tied for fifth in the conference with eight rushing touchdowns. No one else on Mississippi State's roster has eclipsed more than 346 yards on the ground. And Alabama knows it has to be aware of Fitzgerald's running ability.

However, the Tide do possess the nation's top run defense. Despite that, Alabama will have to stay even keeled on defense against Mississippi State because if the Tide decide to stop the pass or the run, Fitzgerald could take advantage in either aspect of the game come Saturday at 11 a.m. in Bryant Denny Stadium.