Billy Embody: State opened with a rough loss to South Alabama, but bounced back against South Carolina ending a seven-game losing streak to the Gamecocks. Hows the team feeling following that win and what changed for them to get that win?
Steve Robertson: There seems to be a renewed sense of urgency. Last week, many of the players spoke of having desperation on the field and bringing a higher level of intensity to the practice sessions and certainly the game. There are a lot of role players stepping up and into positions where a contribution is mandatory. I believe it took the week one embarrassment for guys to truly embrace that.
There is no one to defer to any longer. They have to make plays and they did last week. All week long we hard about how intense the practices were and how much more demanding Coach Dan Mullen had been. He came into the media room last week with a cut on his nose. Over the course of the week, Mullen had gotten a little to close to a face mask during a "coaching" session and picked up a war wound as a result.
BE: Nick Fitzgerald started for State at quarterback this past week and came away with the win. What does he bring to the offense when hes running the show?
SR: Fitzgerald played in an option style offense in high school. He spent a couple of years behind a D1 QB signee, so the staff there moved him out to wide receiver to ensure he had a role with the offense. As a senior, Fitz set a school record for wins and took the team deeper into the Georgia state playoffs than any player before him.
Athletically, he has the highest ceiling of all of the Mississippi State quarterbacks. Most felt that he would be the guy once Dak Prescott left. Fitzgerald is a better runner than Prescott was and can run away from people. I am not sure we see Fitz power through people on a 3rd and 2, but if he gets a seam he can score.
In order for the Mississippi State offense to match Dan Mullen's vision, there has to be a quarterback who can handle the running component of the scheme and Fitzgerald certainly does that.
BE: This seems like a pretty young team and of course, are replacing Dak Prescott too. Is this a team thats just talented, but young? Or are there some serious issues that need to be addressed?
SR: There has been talk of youth, but it's really more an issue of inexperience. State has three senior starter on the offensive line who have started for three years. A pair of senior running backs at the top of the depth chart and the SEC's top returning pass catcher in senior Fred Ross (below).
Behind those guys are players still looking for their niche'. A lot of guys who were 10 to 20 snap per game guys are having to carry he weight of starting reps for the first time.
On the defensive side of the ball, MSU has a handful of seniors in the rotation at defensive line. A.J. Jefferson has been the bell cow of that group, but by and large he is the one starter back along the front.
The biggest issue State faces is the fact that they lost both starting corners to injury before the season began. As a result of those losses, everybody else on the depth chart moves up. Some young guys who were expected to be special teamers this fall and possibly see some game reps in the non-conference slate are now having to play in the rotation week in and week out in the SEC.
BE: Defensively, the Bulldogs pitched a shutout in the first half against USC. What did the Bulldogs do with their 3-4 look to have that much early success last week?
SR: State actually has yet to surrender a point in the first half this season. They appear to have a good game plan and understand where to be. It has taken some time, but the new defensive staff appears to have the right guys in the right spots.
There is not a single defensive coach back from a season ago, so the spring was about fine tuning terminology and scheme. Once everybody got to know each other, it was about finding the right guys for the right roles.
We're seeing more gang tackling and more Maroon hats flowing to the football. Tackling has been better, but it is still a work in progress.
BE: Who's the X factor in this game for the Bulldogs and whats your prediction for how this game goes?
I believe wide receiver Donald Gray (below) should be a factor. He is one of the leaders on the team and he took the week one loss to heart. I believe he played his best game in a Mississippi State uniform last week and the buzz during the fall was that he had taken a real step forward.
Mississippi State has won once in Death Valley in the past 25 years and that was in 2014. The Bulldogs arguably should have won the game last year, so I expect the team to come out with a sense that they can play with LSU. It is always tough to play down there, but with LSU's QB issues, I believe the game is more intriguing than perhaps it was viewed to be back in the summer. I expect a competitive game and I was surprised to see the point spread come out as large as it was. In order for State to win, I believe they need a game in the teens. I don't think the Bulldogs can win a shoot out in Tiger Stadium, at least not this year.