It is difficult to say that a game on the second week of the season is a must win game, but that is the situation that Dan Mullen and Mississippi State were up against while hosting South Carolina Saturday night in Starkville.
After blowing a 17 point lead and losing to South Alabama last week, a win was not only a necessity to get the season on track but to avoid already having to consider bowl eligibility two weeks into the season with the entirety of the SEC West to come.
South Carolina entered the game buoyed by a road victory at Vanderbilt and had many (including yours truly) thinking that they stood a good chance to take another road victory and possibly set themselves up for a sneaky good season.
By halftime, the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) had taken a 24-0 lead and had to avoid complacency during an extended halftime lightning delay to avoid another second half collapse. While Dan Mullen’s crew did little in the second half to impose itself, it also did little to show any signs of a potential collapse en route to a 27-14 victory.
So what did we learn from the Bulldogs’ commanding win?
1) Dak Prescott’s Replacement is Solidified
Nick Fitzgerald ran for a 134 yards on 10 carries in the first half including a 74 yard scamper. The sophomore signal caller finished the game with a Mississippi State quarterback rushing record of 195 yards. The passing game appears to still be a work in progress as Fitzgerald finished the game with 178 yards on 19 completions (29 attempts), two touchdowns and an interception.
2) The South Carolina Offense Needs Help
After Perry Orth failed in impress in the first half at quarterback for South Carolina (1-1, 1-1 SEC), Brandon McIlwain took the reins in the second half and offered a bit of a spark, but the spark never really caught the kindling on fire. The mobile threat offered by McIlwain helped to mitigate a poor performance by the Gamecocks offensive line and led to a pair of second half touchdown drives to make the score appear closer than the game felt in reality. South Carolina finished the game with 243 offensive yards including a measly 34 rushing yards on 31 attempts.
3) Mississippi State Needs Playmakers to Step Up
Outside of Fitzgerald, no other offensive player for Mississippi State put his stamp on the game. With the grind of the SEC, Fitzgerald will need help from experienced players like Fred Ross, Gabe Myles, Brandon Holloway and Brandon Shumpert. All of those players are juniors or seniors, but none had more than 56 yards rushing or receiving. As Fitzgerald likely will not continue to produce at the rushing rate he did this evening, the experienced skill players have to step up and offer other options for the Bulldogs to pick up yards.