Dan Mullen’s return to Starkville was met with hostility, cowbells, and a raucous atmosphere. The game was tough and physical, but in the end Mullen’s new team got the win over his old one.
Both the Florida Gators and the #23 Mississippi State Bulldogs entered the game 3-1. Both teams’ single loss came against the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. Mississippi State was the favorite, with a seasoned quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald and an explosive rushing attack. Florida had a young and depleted defense. The Mississippi State defense was talented on the defensive front, while the Florida offense was inconsistent. At night’s end, the scripts were flipped.
Mississippi State was able to move the ball effectively in the first half, opening up holes in the run game for both Nick Fitzgerald and Kylin Hill. They were not able to convert their drives into touchdowns however, as the Florida defense clamped down in the red zone and held them to two field goals. In the second half, Florida clamped down on the whole field. Mississippi State had only 43 yards after the break, as they abandoned the run that had worked so well.
The reason the Bulldogs abandoned the run? Florida’s offense was able to score. Much-maligned Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks stepped up and played his best game so far. He threw for 219 yards and looked poised, despite a tipped interception off a bad read.
The Gators used quick passes, screens and wildcat plays to offset the talented Mississippi State defensive line. Neither Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons had a tackle for loss in the game. The screens drew the defense in, and when the Gators got to the red zone, they exploited that. Former high school quarterback Kadarius Toney threw a touchdown to tight end Moral Stephens on a double-pass play. It was the game’s only touchdown.
After that, the Gators pass-rushers teed off and held Mississippi State down, including three 3-and-outs. The final fourth down stop was decided on a gutsy call from Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: an 8-man blitz. It got home.
Florida escaped Starkville with an ugly 13-6 win, moving them to 4-1. That matches their win total from 2017 and shows the marked improvement the Gators have made under Dan Mullen. The Gators host the #5 LSU Tigers next week in the Swamp.
Mississippi State is now 3-2 and 0-2 in SEC play. Not a great start for new head coach Joe Moorhead. The Bulldogs have show their explosive potential, but they need to recommit to the run game after not scoring more than 7 points in two straight games. They host the #10 Auburn Tigers next week.