Who: No. 17 Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs
When: Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Time: 7 PM ET
How to watch online: WatchESPN (ESPN3.com)
Radio: Georgia Bulldog Sports Network from IMG, TuneIn Radio
Odds: Georgia is currently five-point favorites, via Odds Shark.
We saw glimpses of the potential of MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in 2016. One year after replacing the legendary Dak Prescott under center, Fitzgerald broke numerous school records after starting all 13 of Mississippi State’s games. Fitzgerald didn’t just break some of Prescott’s school records; he also broke some SEC quarterback rushing records. His 1,375 rushing yards last season rank third all-time in a single season by an SEC quarterback, behind only Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton and he holds the single-season record for most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback. .
This season, Fitzgerald has the Bulldogs atop the SEC in scoring (47.7 ppg) and rushing (297.7 ypg). MSU is undefeated (3-0, 1-0) after last week’s thrashing of then-No. 12 LSU. On the season, Fitzgerald has completed 61 percent of his passes for seven scores, while also rushing for 240 yards and five touchdowns. He’s already proven to be every bit as dynamic as Prescott in head coach Dan Mullen’s offense.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior is also from Richmond, Hill, Ga., adding, even more, intrigue to this weekend’s big matchup.
Can Georgia’s defense slow down Fitzgerald?
This is likely to determine whether Georgia wins or loses this game. Mississippi State’s offense is built on its ability to run the football. If MSU can run the ball, its chances of winning go way up.
So far this season, UGA has proven to be tough against the run. Notre Dame came into its Week 2 matchup against Georgia rushing for over 300 yards the previous week. The ‘Dawgs held the Fighting Irish to 55 yards on 37 attempts.
On the season, Georgia has allowed just 213 rushing yards through three games. Opponents are averaging a meager 2.32 yards per attempt against the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, ranks No. 11 in rushing offense in the nation. Against LSU, MSU proved its dominance on the ground by rushing for 285 yards against the Tigers. This will be, without a doubt, Georgia’s stiffest test yet.
Jake Fromm is the key player
We know Fitzgerald will be fine. Sure, UGA’s front will be tougher to run against, but he will still get his yards. He will also make some plays with his arm. It’s Georgia’s freshman passer who is the key to this game. Mississippi State defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, a former Georgia defensive coordinator, has improved MSU’s defense. He will surely send plenty of pressure Fromm’s way.
Fromm has shown the ability to make big passes under duress. But what happens if Grantham focuses on shutting down Nick Chubb and Sony Michel? It will force Fromm into throwing the football more than head coach Kirby Smart would like.
Ideally, Smart would like to keep Fromm to under 20 attempts. If that happens, that bodes well for UGA’s offense.
So, who wins?
This has the potential to be an outstanding game. You have two teams who love to run the ball but in different ways. Georgia focuses on more of a pro-style attack, while Mississippi State likes to spread it out. Georgia’s defense is one of the nation’s best at stopping the run. MSU does a good job against the run, too, ranking No. 27 in the nation.
Which quarterback will take better care of the ball? Fitzgerald will have the overall better numbers, however, Fromm will get plenty of help from his receivers and backs, and make some big throws in the fourth quarter to help propel Georgia to a close win.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Mississippi State 21