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There’s Absolutely No Way Georgia Loses to Mississippi State

NCAA Football: Samford at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a weekly experience in which we enrich the lives of Georgia fans by building up their confidence and convincing them that there is no possible way the Bulldogs will lose this week.

Ready for a hot take? For the fourth week in a row, the Georgia Bulldogs have an opportunity to garner a win on Saturday and for the fourth week in a row that win probably won’t really tell us anything about how good this Georgia team actually is.

That’s right. When Georgia moves to 4-0 on Saturday evening, you shouldn’t read too much into it. You know why? Because just like Appalachian State, Notre Dame and Samford, Mississippi State is probably not a great football team.

There. I said it.

Mississippi State Hasn’t Really Won Anything Yet

What has Mississippi State accomplished so far this year? Well, Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs beat the tar out of Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech. Every team in the SEC could accomplish that. And then, the other Bulldogs beat the tar out of LSU.

Now, that’s something of a surprise in isolation. I don’t think anyone expected the Tigers to fall 37-7 last week, but I also don’t know that anyone really knows how good LSU is or isn’t.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron has only been a real, validated head coach once in his life (sure, he’s been interim head coach twice but that doesn’t count). At Ole Miss from 2005-2007, he was a real head coach. During that period the Rebels went 10-25 overall and 3-21 in SEC play. Coach O’s Ole Miss teams failed to beat a single Power-5 opponent with a winning record. He’s probably not a great head coach. Take a less-than-great head coach and add a brand new offensive coordinator, and suddenly LSU may not be the beacon of hope in the bayou that some may have thought.

This is all to say, let’s take a step back and discount Mississippi State’s big win over LSU.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

To be fair, Georgia hasn’t accomplished all that much yet either. In fact, both teams have surprisingly similar resumes. Both have one seemingly “good” or “big” win (Miss State over LSU, Georgia over Notre Dame). And both teams have beat up on some scrubs.

The difference here, however, is how the perception of both teams have changed. Georgia has not proven itself as decidedly better or worse than expected and neither has Mississippi State. And yet, a Mississippi State team that posted a losing season last year, is suddenly being considered “on-par” with a Georgia team that has more talent and more recent success. That ought to tick the home team off a little bit.

Georgia caught a lot of deserved flack for nearly losing to Nicholls last year. But Mississippi State did lose to South Alabama last year. By most accounts, Nicholls and South Alabama were pretty even teams (they played; South Alabama won 41-40 in overtime). Both Georgia and Mississippi State played Auburn, Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina last year. Georgia went 3-1 in those contests; Mississippi State went 2-2.

Georgia was a better team last year and has demonstrated as much (I’d argue more) as Mississippi State this year. These programs are not equals.

Mississippi State’s Defense is Not As Good as Advertised

So far this year, Mississippi State has allowed just 618 total yards, 206 yards per game and 3.34 yards per play. That’s good enough to rank the Bulldogs from Starkville as the nation’s fourth-best defense (as measured by yards per play).

Included in that tally, however, is one huge outlier. Against Louisiana Tech, Miss State’s opponent fumbled, kicked, and otherwise back-pedaled for a loss of 87 yards on a single play. That happened. A truly opportunistic Mississippi State would have recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown off of it. But instead, LA Tech found itself in a hilarious third-and-goal with 93 yards to go.

If you back that play out and say that LA Tech ran for a gain of 0, the Bulldogs look quite different defensively.

For instance, suddenly Louisiana Tech’s 315-yard output crosses the 400 mark. That’s right, Louisiana Tech racked up 315 yards against the vaunted Mississippi State defense, and that includes an 87-yard blooper of a loss. That ain’t a great stat for Miss State, folks. Further, removing that outlier pushes Mississippi State to 705 yards, 235 yards per game and 3.81 yards per play. That’s actually a meaningful distinction drops the Bulldogs to 10th in total defense. Against Charleston Southern (only 17 points scored all year), Louisiana Tech and a typically poor and still-adjusting LSU offense, that’s not terrifying in and of itself.

Oh, and Todd Grantham is the defensive coordinator for Mississippi State. So pray for third-and-long. Jake Fromm might actually pass for more than 165 yards.

But About Nick Fitzgerald

Obviously, the big challenge for Georgia in this game will be finding a way to stop Michael Vick Cam Newton Nick Fitzgerald. Georgia is alleged to struggle against mobile quarterbacks and Vick Newton Fitzgerald is as talented with his arm and legs as anyone in the country on Mississippi State’s roster.

As a sophomore last year he threw for almost as many yards and completed passes at almost as high a rate as Georgia true freshman Jacob Eason. In 23 career games, Fitzgerald has thrown for more than 240 yards on three occasions (against UMass, Samford and Arkansas). He is one of the best passers in the country.

2016 Quarterback Comparison

Player Yards Completion Percentage Yards/Attempt TD/INT Ratio Rating
Player Yards Completion Percentage Yards/Attempt TD/INT Ratio Rating
Nick Fitzgerald 2423 54.30% 6.7 2.1 124.3
Jacob Eason 2430 55.10% 6.6 2 120.2

But it’s Fitzgerald’s legs you really have to watch out for. He truly is an explosive runner, except when he’s not.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Since taking over as Mississippi State’s starter at the beginning of 2016, Fitzgerald has run for more than 65 yards in 10 different games. In those contests he’s run for 1,433 yards and 18 touchdowns on 160 carries (8.96 yards per attempt). He’s been a beast

But he’s not always quite so effective. In his other six starts, Fitzgerald has run for just 182 yards on 66 carries (2.76 yards per attempt) and scored three times.

A few noteworthy performances Georgia should point to optimistically:

  • Against BYU in 2016, Fitzgerald was 17 of 36 passing for 214 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. He ran 16 times for 41 yards and two TDs.
  • Against Auburn in 2016, Fitzgerald was 17/34 passing for 181 yards, 2 TDs and an INT. He ran 17 times for just 61 yards and no touchdowns.
  • Against Alabama in 2016, Fitzgerald was 10 of 33 passing for 145 yards, 0 TDs and an INT. He ran 11 times for 15 yards and no touchdowns.
  • Against LSU in 2016, Fitzgerald was 12 of 24 passing for 120 yards. He ran 13 times for 13 yards and one touchdown.

And truthfully, Fitzgerald hasn’t been all that electric this year. He has not yet accounted for more than 280 yards of total offense in a game.

Georgia’s going to be able to contain Fitzgerald. In terms of true mobility, I think Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush was a greater threat and the ND offensive line was more dangerous.

The passing game isn’t all that terrifying. Mississippi State’s leading receiver is averaging 37 yards per game and most of Fitzgerald’s threats are on the smaller side.

Aeris Williams has been a more than competent compliment to Fitzgerald in the running game, but he’s not exactly a world-beater. Williams, who has seen meaningful playing time since his true freshman campaign in 2015, has only run for more than 100 yards four times in his career. Sure, he toted the rock 23 times for an impressive 146 yards against LSU last week and he exploded for 107 yards on nine touches against Louisiana Tech, but he’s also been bottled up quite often.

I have a ton of confidence in Georgia’s defense, and this doesn’t seem like a Mississippi State team that’s going to be scoring much more than 17 points in the contest (if that).

The Big Home Game and the Moment

This is a critical game for Georgia:

  • It’s the first SEC game of the year.
  • It’s the second game against a ranked opponent.
  • It’s a nationally prominent match-up - one of just two ranked-vs.-ranked games this week.
  • It’s a huge recruiting weekend.

If we believe that this is a Kirby Smart program that steps up to the moment rather than shrinking in the shadows of the bright lights, then we should expect that this is a convincing Georgia win. This should not be a 17-16 nail-biter or a come-from-behind race to the finish line. Georgia should control the game from start to finish.

What’s that look like? Well, a more convincing version of the Notre Dame game. Mississippi State is better coached but less talented than the Fighting Irish. Ultimately, the game has the same keys to success (probably the good guy’s running game vs. the bad guy’s running game). From my perspective, the outcome of Georgia’s win in South Bend was never truly in doubt. Move that contest to a truly hostile home environment and clean up stupid turnovers and penalties, and this should be a 10+ point Georgia win.

We won’t learn a ton about Georgia if that’s the case, but we’ll at least be able to build confidence in the fact that Kirby prepares his team to play on a week-in and week-out basis. That’s what Georgia fans want to know heading into the meat of an SEC schedule.

Georgia wins 30-17.