Mississippi State

Mullen mulls over Mississippi State’s tough season

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald must play well for the Bulldogs to have a shot at upsetting fourth-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald must play well for the Bulldogs to have a shot at upsetting fourth-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday. Associated Press

There’s been no one more frustrated with Mississippi State’s 3-5 start this season than Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen.

The Bulldogs had their chances along the way as they fight for bowl eligibility with Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss still ahead. That thought hasn’t been lost on Mullen, who is still trying to save the Bulldogs’ season.

“I love winning. I guarantee you, nobody puts more pressure on themselves or loves winning or hates losing more than me,” Mullen said. “I am sure there are 75,000 people on Twitter disagreeing with that factor, but I can guarantee you that’s not the case.”

If Mullen has put pressure on himself the first eight games of the season, then the last four games will make the eighth-year coach nearly explode.

The Aggies are the first in the gauntlet, bringing their No. 4 ranking in the College Football Playoff to the contest at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday. Texas A&M has built a balanced offense this season, along with its monster pass rush, which creates a lot of concern for exposing MSU’s biggest weaknesses.

Last week, MSU’s defense was obliterated by FCS-based Samford for 627 yards of offense. It was the definite low point of the season for a defense that has steadily gotten worse. Even more challenges arise this week with quarterback Trevor Knight and running back Traveon Williams, who can produce big plays on the ground. The Aggies also have one of the nation’s best wide receiver groups.

“They got a great combination of receivers with size and speed on the outside, a great slot receiver playmaker that you can put the ball in his hands and he can make anything happen, and a quarterback that can improvise,” Mullen said. “He could beat you with a quick release, with his arms, his legs, his scramble ability, and make play after play happen.”

Defensively, MSU must block two of the country’s best pass rushers. Senior Daeshon Hall and junior Myles Garrett have combined for 19 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks on the year.

Garrett especially has had a monstrous three season already putting himself in the top 10 in SEC history with 28 sacks. He’ll move up to seventh all-time with another sack this weekend.

The Bulldogs have allowed 14 sacks, but many more were erased by the legs of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. The Bulldogs’ offensive line will have their work cut out.

“When you look at that combination, those guys could just cause havoc up front with a bunch of potential NFL players and possibly first rounders or first picks in the draft,” Mullen said. “You see why they are one of the top teams in America, and it should be a great challenge for our guys.”

Tight end Farrod Green said that he’ll be used to try and slow down the two defenders. Green has been a welcomed addition to the offense this season and has added eight catches and two touchdowns to go along with his blocking performance.

The Bulldogs’ offense must play well to have a chance against the elite pass rushers.

“This is going to be a physical battle trying to slow those guys down,” Green said. “The biggest thing is stopping them before they get started. We’ve got to execute. We’ve got the game plan in, now we just have to believe in each other.”

Texas A&M at Mississippi State

When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Starkville

Where: Davis Wade Stadium

Radio: 1490-AM, 1640-AM, 103.5-FM

TV: SEC Network