What a difference a week makes.
There was plenty of smiles for Dan Mullen when he walked into the Leo Seal Jr. Complex as Mississippi State fired back from a South Alabama loss by starting 1-0 in SEC play.
Mullen’s team came out with fire and intensity in their game last week against South Carolina. The Bulldogs dominated the USC run game and found their starting quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald. It was something that the eighth year head coach had a hard time being upset about.
“We played Mississippi State football having 11 guys on defense running to the ball. Offensively, I thought we played with some good tempo and an aggressive approach to the game,” Mullen said. “I was pleased with our guys making the plays we needed to make down the stretch to win the football game.”
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Fitzgerald was the story of the game on Saturday after Mullen told ESPN pregame that he would start the sophomore and let him play all four quarters. The result was a new school record for yards rushing by a quarterback with 195, and two touchdowns through the air on 19-for-29 with 178 yards.
Mullen liked what he saw, but his message is clear for Week 3.
“You’ve got to get better,” Mullen said. “He set a school record for rushing by a quarterback but he made good reads and the line blocked well. Hopefully he looks at the things he did well and continues to do things well; look at the things where he made some mistakes and not make those mistakes again.”
Mistakes in Tiger Stadium at LSU can kill opposing teams and especially a young one like MSU. The last time the Bulldogs went to Baton Rouge they pulled out their first win in 23 years there but most of the players playing on Saturday made no impact on the outcome.
It’s a game against the No. 20 Tigers that has intrigue for many as LSU is still unsure on star running back Leonard Fournette’s status as well as who will be their starting quarterback.
Head coach Les Miles put in Purdue transfer Danny Etling in the second quarter replacing starter Brandon Harris and he went 6-for-14 for 100 yards and a score. Preparing for two quarterbacks, an All-American and Heisman candidate running back and stellar defense is just part of the issues ahead.
“This week is going to be a challenge in a very difficult environment against a team that’s got talent across the board at every position. They have dynamic, playmaking wide receivers, probably the best running back in America and a lot of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses on their team.”
Preparing for the Tigers, Mullen said that the same intensity used during last week’s practice and leading up to the game will be brought and he expects his players to meet it.
“I guarantee that I’ll bring the intensity every day at practice,” Mullen said. “As the leader, I’ve got to set that standard and I’ll set that standard really high to make sure we play with that same sense of urgency. It’s up to me to set that standard high and I’ll make sure everybody lives up to that.”
A.J. Jefferson earns honor
A week after Jefferson tallied a career-high four tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, he came after it again to start SEC play.
The former North Pike star spearheaded MSU’s defensive line to victory on Saturday thanks to five tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack. That performance earned him SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors by the league office.
“It’s night and day to where he was (in development),” Mullen said. “He came in and redshirted, played minimally if at all as a redshirt freshman, got in the rotation as a sophomore and then played a lot as a junior. He’s grown, having gone through all of that, to be a leader. He’s worked going into five years at becoming a great player.”
Jefferson currently leads the league with 6.0 tackles for loss and is tied for the league lead with 3.0 sacks. He’s third nationally in TFL and is ranked sixth all-time in MSU history with 30.5 tackles for loss.
Who: Mississippi State at LSU
When: 6 p.m. Saturday