The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

After sluggish start, Fitzgerald’s leadership rallies MSU to victory

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.– No. 16 Mississippi State University (8-3, 4-3 SEC) did not play up to their standards against the University of Arkansas (4-7. 1-6 SEC), but were able to escape Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a 28-21 win.

Head coach Dan Mullen said everyone needed to improve and look over things, but a win’s a win.

“We will take it, told the team, ‘you know what you call that? A win.’ That is all it is,” Mullen said. “Never think anything different than that. That was was win and that is what matters, find a way to win the game.”

Many will attribute the lackluster performance to the famed ‘Alabama Hangover’, that many teams struggle with after putting their all into beating No. 1 University of Alabama. Something MSU did last week when they fell to the Crimson Tide 31-24. When asked about the hangover effect, Mullen took the question in stride.

“I did not drink since last Saturday night after the game,” Mullen said. “I’m probably not supposed to say those things on camera, so I did not have a hangover I was fine. But I thought we had a great week of preparation.”

Three fluke plays sour a solid defensive performance

MSU looked to be off to a quick start, forcing a three and out against Arkansas on the Razorbacks’ first drive, but an unlucky play for MSU left them falling behind early on. MSU regained momentum in the second quarter, tying the game at 14 going into halftime.

Arkansas’ punt barely traveled over 25 yards, and it hit the back of MSU’s Cameron Dantzler and Arkansas recovered. The Razorbacks would take advantage and score quickly thereafter to go up 7-0.

MSU’s defense was able to get off the field, but the offense would make the miscue this time around. With the ball on their own 5-yard line, MSU running back Nick Gibson fumbled and the ball rolled into the end zone; it was recovered by the Razorbacks for a touchdown, allowing Arkansas to go up 14-0. The fumble was the first fumble MSU’s offense has lost this season.

The third Arkansas touchdown came from another fluke play. With around five minutes left in the third quarter, MSU forced a fumble, but MSU defensive lineman Tre Brown kicked the ball towards the end zone. MSU safety Johnathan Abram tried to scoop the ball up and run with it, instead of making the fundamental play and falling on the ball. He would bobble the ball, and Arkansas would recover it on the 1-yard line. They scored on the next play.

Mullen said he did not really have to refocus his guys after the blunders, they composed themselves.

“Just fall on the ball and get the ball back for the offense,” Mullen said. “It was kind of strange that way, but I am proud of our guys because they did not let any of that bother them. They just keep worrying and working on and focusing on the next play.”

The punt return team made up for their mistake later in the second quarter. MSU brought pressure on a Razorback punt in the second quarter, and the Arkansas punter realized the punt was about to be blocked. He brought the ball down and attempted to run for the first down. He was stopped at the 17-yard line, and MSU’s offense took advantage of the field position, later scoring on an 8-yard run by running back Aeris Williams, tying the game at 14.

So while the 21 points looks like a lot, overall the MSU defense played well. They only allowed 221 yards, and held Arkansas to a 23 percent conversion rate on third and fourth downs. Defensive end Montez Sweat led the defense, sacking Arkansas QB Austin Allen 2.5 times. Safety Johnathan Abram led the back end with a team leading five tackles and one forced fumble. Sophomore defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons, of Macon, also had five tackles and a fumble.

Fitzgerald’s leadership pushes MSU over the top late

Nick Fitzgerald has taken a lot of criticism in the past about his leadership and intangibles off the field, something bound to happen when he replaces a guy like Dak Prescott. However on Saturday, his teammates had nothing but praise for the way he held the team together late in the game.

Down 14-0 in the second quarter, Fitzgerald, a junior from Richmond Hill, Georgia, led MSU on an eight play, 50-yard scoring drive. Facing fourth and 10, and for all intents and purposes MSU’s best shot at getting back in the game on the line, Fitzgerald zipped a pass into coverage to wide receiver Jesse Jackson for a 17-yard completion. Fitzgerald would then take the ball 18-yards for a touchdown on the next play.

Late in the game, with MSU down 21-14 with 7:03 seconds left in the game. MSU drove down the field, and Fitzgerald hit Reggie Todd on a double move post route, which would lead to a 37-yard touchdown reception–the first touchdown catch of Todd’s career.

“We actually called the play before earlier in the game,” Fitzgerald said on the play call to Todd. “He (Todd) said ‘Nick, tell coach I want to run the play again and tell him to throw it to me.’ So I walked up to coach Mullen and said ‘hey, Reggie (Todd) wants that play again’ and he (Mullen) said ‘hey let’s do it.’ Mullen called it and he (Todd) ran a great route and I tried not to overthrow him.”

It was the last drive of the game Fitzgerald received the most praise for. With 3:01 left in the game and the score tied at 21, Fitzgerald accounted for 35 of the yards on MSU’s 44-yard drive. Capping it off with a 6-yard pass to receiver Deddrick Thomas to give MSU the lead for the first time in the game.

“I could see it in his eyes,” Simmons said of his teammate. “That he (Fitzgerald) was the type of guy who refuses to lose the game.”

Fitzgerald finished the game 12-23 through the air for 153 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing, with 22 rushes for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Egg Bowl is next and update on injuries

MSU will travel back home for a holiday Egg Bowl against the University of Mississippi. The game will be on Thanksgiving day, and kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

The game will be in Davis Wade Stadium, and ESPN will broadcast the game. A win would give MSU a shot at another ten-win season under Mullen, after MSU won ten games in 2014.

Mullen said after the game, safety Brandon Bryant, who did not play today, should be back next week. He also expects wide receiver Keith Mixon, who missed today’s game, will be back next week.

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After sluggish start, Fitzgerald’s leadership rallies MSU to victory