Mississippi State won their second consecutive bowl game on Monday afternoon, defeating the Miami (OH) RedHawks 17-16 in the 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl.
The Bulldogs, who wrap up the season at 6-7 following the win, won the game thanks in large part to big special teams plays. They blocked two field goals, including one in the waning moments of the game, helping to preserve the mere one-point lead that they had over the RedHawks.
Unsurprisingly, it was State’s ground game that also helped boost them to victory. The Bulldogs compiled 209 yards on the ground along with two touchdown, both scored by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald racked up 142 yards of his own, averaging 7.9 yards per carry on 18 rushing attempts. Aeris Williams was the second biggest contributor for Mississippi State, as the sophomore running back amassed 64 yards on 12 carries.
Miami’s attempt to rattle off seven straight victories following their 0-6 start came up short, but their efforts this year are certainly worthy of recognition. Things didn’t go their way in that regard, or on the field, as sloppy play plagued them on Monday morning.
The RedHawks committed two turnovers to Mississippi State’s zero and sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland threw his first interception of the year as well. Ragland did throw two touchdowns as well, one to Ryan Smith and the other to James Gardner, while their run game was able to put up a strong performance also.
Four players ran for 20 or more yards, with Kenny Young leading the way with 67 yards on merely nine carries. Ragland also showed off his legs by picking up 51 yards on 17 carries. Maurice Thomas and Alonzo Smith meanwhile combined for 53 yards on seven total carries.
What we learned
Nick Fitzgerald will be Mississippi State’s ‘QB of the future’
Dan Mullen confirmed as much in the postgame interview, but to no surprise the dual-threat quarterback for the Bulldogs will be their guy. It took a little while for things to be solved following the departure of Dak Prescott to the NFL but once Fitzgerald was able to pick up the reins earlier this season, the Bulldog offense was able to succeed. With growth, Nick Fitzgerald can certainly become one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC West division.
The Bulldogs’ pass rush was surprisingly stymied
Miami (OH) had one of the worst sack rates in the country, so the fact that the Bulldogs only were able to pick up one sack on the day was pretty surprising. They likely missed AJ Jefferson, who was out of the game due to injury. But even defensive lineman and sack leader Johnathan Calvin wasn’t able to really get it going as the lone sack of the day was credited to Nick James.
Mississippi State’s season ends on a high note
Although they’re still under .500 on the year, getting this bowl win caps off an up-and-down season on a high note. The Bulldogs’ transition from the Dak Prescott era wasn’t the smoothest of rides to say the least. But after sputtering out of the gate, Mississippi State was able to take command and finish out strongly.