Mississippi State

Don’t expect another blowout when Mississippi State plays Louisiana Tech, Dan Mullen says

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, left hands the ball off to running back Aeris Williams, right against Charleston Southern in Starkville, Miss.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, left hands the ball off to running back Aeris Williams, right against Charleston Southern in Starkville, Miss. Associated Press

It wasn’t long after Mississippi State’s 49-0 blowout debut against Charleston Southern that Dan Mullen and his team was focused on week two.

The ninth-year Bulldog head coach didn’t even use much of his defensive film this week to prepare his players for Saturday because the contrast will be quite different. Louisiana Tech is up next on the road and a tough environment isn’t the only thing Mullen is worried about.

Skip Holtz’s team is ninth nationally since 2014 with 109 touchdowns and produced two 4,000-yard passers in the last two seasons: Jeff Driskel and Ryan Higgins. The history of explosive offenses continues with Meridian native J’Mar Smith —a former MSU recruit.

“They are an extremely talented group,” Mullen said. “They have a quarterback that we know well from Mississippi that has experience playing. They have multiple running backs that are explosive players that can score every time they touch the ball and dangerous with the return game.”

The unit proved how quickly it can turn it on. After struggling with Northwestern State through three quarters last week, La. Tech poured on 21 points in the fourth quarter for the 52-24 victory. Smith was 18-for-35 for 276 yards and two touchdowns passing while rushing 10 times for 72 yards. They also had 86 yards from starting running back Jarred Craft and another 55 from backup Boston Scott.

Bulldog RBs

MSU enjoyed some success from its running backs. MSU regularly rotated four backs as starter Aeris Williams had 16 carries for 83 yards. Nick Gibson added 41 yards and Dontavian Lee scored a touchdown, but true freshman Kylin Hill was talked about the most.

After a much-hyped fall camp, the four-star running back from Columbus got on the field and carried it three times in a row in his first possession in the opening quarter for 33 yards. He had a 19-yard run and finished the game with nine carries for 62 yards.

“I didn’t even know I was going to play and it wasn’t even one of the things that was in my head,” Hill said. “I just wanted to make sure that I did everything I could to play and, in the end, it looks like I did.”

Hill’s role increases this week. MSU has yet to show a major threat in the passing game, though Nick Fitzgerald threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns in over a quarter. That makes the plethora of running backs all the more important for Mullen moving forward.

It also means that MSU’s offensive line must be better. Against Charleston Southern, the unit had many instances where it struggled to open holes or hold off the pass rushers from an out-manned Buccaneer bunch.

It’s important to remember that there are two new starters and junior Elgton Jenkins is working at center for the first time, but the schedule gets tougher. Mullen believes they got better as the game went on.

“There were some ups and downs but there are good things to teach off of,” Mullen said. “There was some really quality work and quality play with a little bit inconsistency at time which happens with young players.”

There were very few complaints from Mullen and the fans alike after the defensive performance. That side of the ball surrendered only 33 total yards and two first downs.

“This is going to be a big challenge for us,” Mullen said. “We have to take some big steps now and between week one and week two. We have to find a way to go out there and compete with an excellent football team.”

Game plan

What: Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Joe Allet Stadium

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1580-AM, 96.9 FM