I took a few minutes recently to discuss this weekend’s game with Evan Ertel of our SB Nation sister site For Whom the Cowbell Tolls. Evan’s answers to my question were forthright, but confident. I think you’ll agree with me that, like a lot of Mississippi State fans, he appears as confident in the Maroon Mullens as he’s been in some time.
MD: Okay smart guy, how would you stop Nick Fitzgerald?
Evan: Buddy, if I actually knew the answer to that question, I certainly would not be sharing it on the internet, I would be getting paid a sizable amount of money to coordinate a defense at a Division 1 football program.
My best guess though? Make MSU be completely one-dimensional, where Fitzgerald has to throw the ball 30+ times. I think that is the only real way to attack this offense. Dan Mullen has done a great job so far this season establishing the run early and often, keeping the defense on its heels from the very first snap. Fitzgerald has yet to be in a position this season where he is playing from behind, having to throw the ball downfield to make up ground rather than mid to short range throws to keep the ball moving. I think that's where he is most vulnerable. If the Georgia defense can force Fitzgerald to throwing the ball well into the secondary, I think MSU will be in trouble.
MD: Bulldog fans are well aware of Fitzgerald, Aeris Williams, and Jeffrey Simmons. But who are some other maroon Bulldogs for red and black Bulldog fans to be aware of?
Evan: On the offensive side of the ball, a couple of receiving threats to watch out for are Donald Gray and Keith Mixon. Combining for 207 yards on 17 receptions and 2 TDs, the two have shown themselves to be very reliable options for Fitzgerald with big play capabilities. Mixon has shown to be the more explosive of the two, boasting an average of 16 yards per reception, and played a key role in the domination of LSU. When Arden Key and the Tigers defensive line seemed to begin figuring out the run game, Mixon was there to break off an easy 8 yard catch to move the chains and shake up their defense all over again.
Defensively, Mark McLaurin and Gerri Green are two guys that haven't quite gotten their fair share of attention because of Jeffery Simmons unreal 2017 campaign so far, which isn't necessarily undeserving. McLaurin, a junior DB, is the leading tackler on the team and is the only maroon Dawg to snatch an interception in 2017 so far. Green is in second on the team in sacks with 2, just a half behind Jeffery Simmons. Green is a constant presence at LB and you can see it in the defensive run statistics. Simmons can't make every play himself, and that's what Green is for.
MD: Will Mississippi State come out sharp following that big win against LSU, or are the Bulldogs ripe for a letdown?
Evan: Generally, I'm conditioned to say that MSU is building us all up for a massive letdown, and years of history would say that's probably a fair assessment, but that's genuinely not how it feels. In 2014, the feeling was new, we had never been there before, but that was three years ago and this is a completely new team. I didn't think it would ever happen again but somehow, Mullen may have put together his most complete team in this 2017 squad. I think Mullen has been through enough of those big, emotional wins that I think he will have the team focused and ready to go
MD: Most UGA fans are resigned to the notion that MSU will get its points. The question is whether the home team can keep up. Is there a defensive vulnerability Georgia can exploit?
Evan: After rewatching the LSU game, I can tell you one thing, there may not be any there to exploit. MSU has defended just about every phase of offense exceptionally well through the first three games. They have only allowed three touchdowns through as many games and that is no small feat. My best guess as to a defensive vulnerability is that I noticed on LSU's small number of big gains were when they would catch our line being a touch too aggressive around the outside and would just send the ball up the middle for 12 yards through open field.
MD: Because we must: score prediction?
Evan: Georgia is currently the only SEC team besides Alabama ahead of MSU in total defense so I think MSU will see the lowest points total of the season. I think that we see another first half back and forth like last week against LSU, as Mullen and Fitzgerald figure out how to move the ball. The defense will do their job, holding UGA to two touchdowns, but it will certainly be their toughest test yet. I'm confident though, so I'm taking the maroon Dawgs to emerge victorious from Sanford Stadium 27-14.
Thanks to Evan for his enlightening answers. Here’s to a good game between good dogs.