Dan Mullen felt it on his Monday morning run around campus in Starkville.
The ninth-year head coach at Mississippi State was partially amped due to his playlist of U2, Jimmy Buffett and Tupac, but there was also a different feel in the air. That's how his entire team feels this week when MSU (2-0) opens SEC play by hosting No. 12 LSU (2-0) at 6 p.m. on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium.
"Everything is different. If they need me to motivate them, they're messed up," Mullen said. "They don't need a big rallying cry this week. Our guys know it's different and you can feel the intensity picks up."
It's once again a pivotal part of MSU's early-season schedule as the Tigers meet up with the Bulldogs. Since Mullen has been at State, the game has served as both a measuring stick and a barometer of just how good, or bad, the forecast will be for MSU.
It's no coincidence that his only win against LSU back in 2014 helped lead to the Bulldogs' best season of all-time when they moved to No. 1 in the country two weeks later and eventually won 10 ball games.
Their success on Saturday will hinge on quarterback Nick Fitzgerald's play. The junior signal caller came out slow against Louisiana Tech last week when he started the game 2-for-8 with an interception. The first quarter wasn't a high watermark, but Mullen worked him through it.
"I told him, 'That's a pretty pathetic first quarter right there'," Mullen said. "He comes off and throws the interception and you coach through that play. At that point he's a little more relaxed and he'll laugh it off. It keeps him calm and underdstanding what's going on."
Fizgerald finished the game 12-of-18 overall for 124 yards and three scores. No surprise, his biggest impact came in the rushing department where he led the team with 111 yards and two more scores on just 10 carries.
Behind a strong defensive performance, he helped lead State back from a 9-0 deficit to a 57-21 win on the road.
"I came out slow,” Fitzgerald said. “I wasn't playing like myself by any means. I just had to calm down and make the plays that I'm supposed to make with what they were giving me and not try to force anything."
Following a big performance on Saturday, sophomore Jeffery Simmons was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
Simmons made his presence known early with a blocked extra point and then a blocked punt in the first quarter. The blocked punt was recovered by him in the end zone, giving MSU a 10-9 lead they wouldn’t give up.
Later, Simmons scooped up a Gerri Green forced fumble and ran it back 90 yards for a score. He finished the game with five tackles for the second straight week.
Injuries and Suspensions
Redshirt freshman cornerback Cameron Dantzler made a hard hit in the third quarter of the La. Tech game that got him penalized for targeting and ejected from the game. The play was reviewed, but it was confirmed by officials to be targeting.
Mullen confirmed that they couldn’t appeal the suspension and Dantzler will sit the first two quarters Saturday.
On the injury front, MSU is expected to have starting left guard Darryl Williams back against LSU. Williams injured his shoulder last week and aggravated it further on the game’s second possession. Mullen said he could have reentered the game but Michael Story performed well.
There is a chance that MSU sees the return of junior slot receiver Malik Dear this week. Dear has been out since the spring suffering from a torn ACL.
"I know he really wants to play this week," Mullen said. "It's up in the air. He hasn't gone full practice yet, but he might practice this week."
Who: Mississippi State vs. LSU
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Radio: 1580 AM