Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

The Offense is Infectious; Turning Troy Over; and MSU-Ellaneous Notes

INFECTIOUS OFFENSE: Nick Fitzgerald knew he was going to get his turns against Troy. Saturday morning the redshirt freshman got confirmation, but not from a coach. Hotel roommate Dak Prescott gave him the early word.

“He woke up and kind of looked at me and said you know, I’ve been sick all night. At that exact moment I said well, I guess I better get my mind right. I may play a little earlier than I expected to.”

Prescott took a Friday night hit from stomach bugs that had the senior quarterback shaky about his Saturday status. Fitzgerald said there were no signs of sickness when the two took the usual ‘quarterback test’ in scouting Troy. “He seemed completely fine.” But while the younger quarterback slept like a proverbial log, Prescott was ill all night.

Not too ill to play, as it turned out, though he was taken to the stadium separate from Dog Walk, where Prescott’s absence was noticed and sparked social media buzz. For his part, Fitzgerald is a loyal teammate and understudy…but. “I stayed as far away from him, and him and both Elijah Staley were feeling sick this morning. So they were in quarantine, I walked in to see how they were doing and walked right back out!”

During warm-ups Prescott seemed fine, and he was. Or enough so against Troy to throw a second-snap pass that WR Fred Ross turned into a tone-setting touchdown. Prescott wasn’t sharp on the next two turns though, eight snaps netting 19 yards. Coach Dan Mullen later said the original plan was to insert Fitzgerald for the third series.

The younger quarterback was more flexible, fortunately. “You can’t really get your hopes up. We were pinned a little bit deeper (20 yard line) than they were comfortable with putting me in there for my first drive. I understand that.”

When Fitzgerald did take over the ball was on the 26. Did six yards make that much difference? No, a 21-0 lead did after a fumble recovery touchdown and punt return touchdown.

“I’m glad we were able to get some quick points on the board,” Fitzgerald said.

The #2 quarterback did his part to put on more points though. His first drive did need some help in the form of a faked punt that P Logan Cooke converted with an 11-yard run. Eight more plays and PK Westin Graves knocked through a field goal.

“He had a good series, and I wanted to let him go the rest of the way and not play Dak in the weakened state,” Mullen said.

Before the half was done Fitzgerald had thrown a perfect touchdown to a kinda-covered WR De’Runnya Wilson, then after finding Wilson again for an even more amazing connection Fitzgerald rushed the last yard himself for the 38-0 lead. And after Troy faked/blew a fourth quarter punt, Fitzgerald struck immediately with an imperfect but good enough throw to WR Donald Gray at the right pylon for a 49-yard touchdown.

Mullen commented that the way that play developed, with Fitzgerald rolling right away from pressure, “I thought he could have run it too, scrambled and got us some momentum.” Instead Fitzgerald took a shot and it paid off.

The head coach also said that Fitzgerald might not have slept so soundly if he’d known Prescott was ill. As it was, the young quarterback accepted the morning change of situation and showed Mullen he was “locked in and ready to go” during the morning walk-through. “He got to the stadium mentally prepared to step on the field and go.”

For his day, the redshirt frosh was 6-of-7 for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 29 yards and the other score, and the leg-work excited fans nearly as much as the arm has in Fitzgerald’s big off-bench days against Northwestern State and Troy. By the way, he’s only missed on one pass out of 11 thrown so far.

Not that he takes the credit. “People getting open. Big-time players making big-time plays down the field. And great coverage by my offensive line giving me time to make the reads.”

And on this day, as Fitzgerald added, giving Prescott time to relax. “Get him off and start recovering for next week.”

For his part Staley did get over his own bug and play a pair of late series. The other redshirt frosh was 1-of-2 for a loss of four yards and kept twice for eleven yards.

HUNTING DOGS: The fastest way to blow a game open is getting points off turnovers and kicking plays. Mississippi State accomplished both. As featured, WR Fred Ross brought back a Troy punt 77 yards for a touchdown that expanded State’s lead to 21-0. That ended a four-year drought for MSU in this area, as the last punt return score by a Bulldog came in 2011 when Johnthan Banks did it to UT-Martin.

It was the second Bulldog touchdown which did more to stun the visitors. Barely a minute after State had taken a 7-0 lead, the Trojans were blitzed into a red zone fumble. S Brandon Bryant knocked the ball free and into the end zone, where DT Nelson Adams fell on it for a touchdown.

Or as DE A.J. Jefferson said, Adams just got there first. “It was funny. Because I’m running beside him. Nelson is one of my best friends on the team, and I thought about pushing him down and grabbing the ball!”

“But he was there, he got it. Good things come to people who hunt the ball.”

Coordinator Manny Diaz has asked his defense to hunt that ball harder for weeks. Through five games the Dogs had not recovered any of five fumbles they saw. They made this first chance against Troy count in the best possible way, for points.

*This unit still to go to match last year’s group and manufacturing points. State had two true defensive touchdowns in 2014. DE Preston Smith returned an interception against UAB, and LB Christian Holmes scored on fumble return against Vanderbilt. That doesn’t count touchdowns by Holmes on an on-sides kickoff return, and S Jay Hughes’ scoop and score of a Smith-blocked field goal.

A.J., OK: As featured yesterday, the defensive line was what established control of the game. Though Mississippi State did at times pay for bringing pressures—Troy had a knack for guessing right and calling receiver screens that worked well against blitzes—the Dogs up front had this one handled most of the time.

Ends Jefferson and Brown combined for 14 tackles and 5.5 for losses out of 15.0 total. Brown’s 3.5 TFLs were a career high for the senior. For Jefferson it was his seventh-straight game with a tackle for loss of some sort.

“He plays with a little nastiness to him,” Mullen said. “And he really does a good job setting tempo for our defense. It’s great to see his growth in taking ownership, of a guy everyone looks to to go make a play and set the bar for our defense.”

MSU-ELLANEOUS: There were four first-time starters this week. RB Brandon Holloway got the first series over five-game starter RB Ashton Shumpert, who alternated as usual. DT Nelson Adams was given a start over DT Nick James, and that allowed Adams to fall on the end zone fumble for the second State touchdown…OT Elgton Jenkins took over from OT Rufus Warren, who rolled an ankle at Texas A&M, and played the entire game at left tackle…And S Brandon Bryant was promoted to first-team in place of injured S Kendrick Market. Bryant of course was the defender knocking the ball free for Adams to recover…OG Deion Calhoun was the only alternate used on the offensive line. There was little chance to do much subbing on the front as State had just 48 offensive snaps…It was a short day for Prescott, though he did add an 8th touchdown pass to his senior season and 49th career. Prescott now has thrown or run for 83 touchdowns which ties him for 10th in SEC history…Prescott only threw six balls, extending his string of non-intercepted passes to 231, now the longest such active streak in the NCAA…LB Richie Brown had another short home game which kept him from adding much to his team-leading tackles total. His four credited stops gives the junior 54. He also had four in the Northwestern State game; otherwise Brown has had double-digit tackles in his games…Ironically, MLB Gerri Green was able to get in on 11 tackles as Brown’s replacement most of the day…OLB Beniquez Brown notched his first interception of the season and third career pick…WR De’Runnya Wilson now has 15 career touchdown passes and is alone in 4th place on the MSU list. He needs 17 to tie Eric Moulds and Justin Jenkins for second place…For much of the day State’s rushing ‘leader’ was P Logan Cooke. His rush on a fake punt picked up 11 yards. It was the third-longest run of the day as RB Dontavian Lee had a 23-yard carry and Fitzgerald kept for 13…Dan Mullen became the third Mississippi State coach to reach 50 career victories...Mullen’s teams are now 24-3 in in regular season non-conference games, and have won 16-straight home non-SEC games since 2009.

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