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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

What Saturday taught us about MSU football

The first weekend of football is an exhilarating time: it is the culmination of excitement, hype, fear, worry  and many other emotions. 

Fans witnessed the debut of this year’s edition of MSU football. 

While a lot was learned this  weekend about MSU’s football team, they still played an FCS team in Charleston Southern University, albeit a good one.

However, it is not the opponent MSU played that spoke so loudly but the way MSU played them. Last season when MSU played Samford University, another FCS team, they won 56-41, a very unimpressive score. So there is clear improvement, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Granted it is just one game but the way the defense looked during it was impressive. They dominated the way they should have, not allowing CSU past the 50-yard line and only giving up 33 yards. 

The front seven completely outclassed CSU and was the primary reason they had so much trouble. Between the linebackers and the defensive line, MSU has a very deep and talented front seven, which showed on Saturday as MSU scored two safeties.

However, we really did not learn anything about MSU’s secondary. CSU runs an option offense and only threw the ball eight times, so the secondary was never  tested. While the front seven looked great, the verdict is still out on the defense as a whole because the secondary is the part of the defense that looked weakest going into the season anyway.

The game confirmed what we knew, the front seven would dominate, but we consequently learned very little about the secondary. That will change after this weekend as MSU faces Louisiana Tech, a team that had a QB throw for about 4,600 yards last season.

Going into the game there were three major questions about the offense. Can Fitzgerald improve his passing accuracy? Is the offensive line any better than last years? Then finally, can someone besides Donald Gray step up in the receiving game?

On Saturday, Fitzgerald did not show the improvements fans or coaches want to see out of him as a passer. Fitzgerald threw the ball 29 times and completed 16, or 55 percent, of those passes. Going into the game, quarterback’s coach Brett Elliott said he wanted to see him complete around 60 percent of his passes.

Because CSU is an FCS team, MSU probably ran a basic play package so they did not show other teams much to watch on film, but Fitzgerald’s play was  worrisome. He sailed multiple passes in Saturday’s game and struggled to quickly get through reads and check the ball down. Granted, that is not entirely his fault because of the struggles the offensive line had at times. Overall, Fitzgerald has improved from last season but not as much as MSU needs him to.

The offensive line is improved but still struggled. When run blocking, the offensive line was dominate across the board. In pass protection however, there were some struggles. After watching the game again, most of the struggles seemed to be scheme related not talent related. This is a new offensive line and they will take time to gel. Most of the pressure came when a guard was pulling or  when someone, sometimes a running back, failed to pick up a blitz rather than a lineman getting beat one-on-one.

Talent-wise, this offensive line is better than the last two years, they just need some more time to gel. The one other negative was center Elgton Jenkins struggled to snap the ball. His snaps were constantly at Fitzgerald’s knees, which is a big deal  when Fitzgerald loses at least a second every play he takes his eyes off the field to duck down and grab the ball. Look to see if that is  corrected in practice because a loss of a second on every play is something MSU can not afford.

The good news is MSU was able to spread the ball out and hit multiple receivers.  MSU spread 20 receptions to 11 different players, with three receptions being the most caught by any one player. Six caught the ball multiple times.

The worry going into the season was that Donald Gray would be the only reliable target but this was not the case, because Fitzgerald has a deep receiver and tight end core to find throughout the season. 

Speaking of tight ends, the coaches talked at the beginning of fall camp about how they were going to utilize tight ends and play them in the slot. They did  this and it worked well. Look for MSU to continue to use the big bodies of Farrod Green, Jordan Thomas and Justin Johnson more in the passing game.

On special teams, Tucker Day is the starting kicker, he went 1-3 on Saturday. MSU will just have to bear with sub-par play until Evan McPherson gets to campus. McPherson is rated as high as the No. 3 kicker in the country for the 2018 recruiting class and is an Under Armour All-American.  So fans will have to wait out the struggles this year, until MSU has a recruited kicker in McPherson next year for the first time under Mullen. 

Punter Logan Cooke looked like an NFL player in his punts so there are no worries there.

Everything should be taken with a grain of salt because this is just one game and against weaker competition. I still think this team win nine games, I’m much more confident of it now than I was before Saturday.

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What Saturday taught us about MSU football