1.What has Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald brought to the offense to build on what Dak Prescott did for the Bulldogs and has it been a surprise the way he’s played?
“Fitz is a real play maker as a runner. He is faster than Dak Prescott and came through high school in an option based offense. He brought that skill set with him. He spins the ball well as a passer, but is still developing in that part of his game. He's working on his touch, but when he's on, he's on. He's been a little up and down in the early going, but you expect that from a first year starter. I would say he's played up to expectations, but most thought he would play more against South Alabama.”
2. Much like Auburn the offensive line as a question mark for Mississippi State heading into the season. How has that group progressed this season?
The interior offensive line has played pretty well. Many believe that left guard Deion Calhoun may be State's next great offensive lineman. He is an Alabama native who State offered late. He is come along nicely and maybe the meanest of the bunch. State has played three tackles regularly with Justin Senior holding down the right side, but Elgton Jenkins and Martinas Rankin splitting some of the reps at left tackle. Jenkins closed out the season strong last year, but Rankin made the competition interesting in fall camp. State has had some trouble with the speed rush off of the left side and that remains a concern heading into this week.
3. How important is Fred Ross to this offense in terms of making big plays? Is he the key for the Bulldogs because of his explosive play on the perimeter?
Fred Ross is MSU's guy and one of the most important pieces of the offensive puzzle. When he's playing well, he gets double teamed, which gives Donald Gray one-on-one coverage on the other side. When Ross is making plays down the field, it backs the safety off and provides more running room for Fitz and the option game. State gets the ball to Ross in a variety of ways to increase his number of touches and impact on the game. He has played well in recent weeks and looks completely healthy.
4. How has this defense looked different under a new coordinator and what has allowed them to pick up where they left off the last few seasons?
Peter Sirmon brought a 3-4 defensive alignment with him and there is now a completely new defensive staff from a season ago. State has been good against the run for the most part and has been able to generate some pressure. The secondary has been a bit of a concern, but not from a schematic point of view. They have been there with receivers more times than not, but have not always displayed the ball skills needed to make the play and get off of the field. Sirmon likes to bring heat and that has helped the secondary on third downs. State lost both starting corners to injury in fall camp, so it's been a work in progress with some inexperienced guys being forced into the regular rotation at corner.
5.Auburn has had problems with speed rushers coming off the edge this season. How do A.J. Jefferson and Johnathan Calvin compare to the guys the Bulldogs have had in recent seasons? What do they bring to the table?
I believe the pass rushers State has this year may be better than what we've seen in recent years as a group. A.J. Jefferson leads the SEC in tackles for loss and we have seen Johnathan Calvin thrive at the viper position. Jefferson is the leader of that group and he has an incredible first step. He is not flashy, but you look up and he is in the backfield again. Calvin played at defensive end last year, so it has taken some time for him to acclimate to playing in a two point stance. First team viper Will Coleman has been slowed by a bad back and is still waiting to see his first snaps. He may play this weekend. It will likely be a game time decision.