It’s been six years since Mississippi State and Georgia faced off in a battle of Bulldogs.
When MSU lost 24-10 in Athens in 2011, head coach Dan Mullen was on the sidelines along with offensive line coach John Hevesy and running backs coach Greg Knox. That’s it in regards to those who were a part of the last time the two teams met.
Still, there’s a lot more of a connection to this game six years later than there was back then.
No. 11 Georgia (3-0) and No. 17 Mississippi State (3-0, 1-0 SEC) battle with early season implications on the line at 6 p.m. Saturday. MSU has players and coaches with plenty to play for during those four quarters.
It starts with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham who earned the nickname “Third and Grantham” during his time in Athens for the fanbase’s perceived distaste of UGA’s ineffectiveness on third downs. Despite that, UGA was routinely a top 15 defense during his time there and he’s more than impressed MSU fans in his first three games in Starkville, spearheading one of the top defenses in the country to this point.
MSU will also be taking a former Georgia Bulldog back to Athens in the form of junior safety Johnathan Abram. The Mississippi native started five games as a true freshman two years ago before transferring out due to the exit of former coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Abram, in Starkville, has been impressive with his 11 tackles in two games. He’s been a welcomed addition to Mullen’s team.
“He obviously played in this style of defense a little when he was a freshman, so I think there’s a little bit of understanding in the schemes. That helped him pick it up faster,” Mullen said. “He has a tremendous work ethic and a drive, and he’s unbelievably self-motivated to go out there and seize those reps.”
Abram made comments to the Clarion-Ledger earlier in the week that he hoped to “beat the brakes off” his former team and excited to see former teammates who he shared a bond with for a year.
“It’s going to be pretty fun and I look forward to it,” Abram said. “I have some good friends there. We had a big freshman class come in that year and they’re still there.”
On the other side of the ball is quarterback Nick Fitzgerald- a former UGA fan spurned by the home state Bulldogs out of high school. Fitzgerald is now leading one of the SEC’s best offenses and looks even more improved than he was a year ago.
The Richmond Hill, Georgia, native has already thrown for 543 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 240 and five more scores. Despite the snub from UGA out of high school, he hold no ill-will towards them.
“I don’t really have a chip on my shoulder or anything like that. I know the reasons why people weren’t looking at me,” Fitzgerald said. “I know it’s hard to take a chance on a guy that didn’t start at quarterback until his senior year. Mississippi State did, and I’m glad I’m here.
“It couldn’t have worked out better for me. It’s just another game. It’s still a team we’ve got to go face and got to go beat. I’ll have some extra friends and family there, some I probably haven’t played in front of since high school.”
Mississippi State at Georgia
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Athens, Ga.
Radio: 1580-AM, 96.9 FM