Now there’s a new name on the list…with just two college starts to his credit.
When Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 195 yards it was not just the fifth-most ever by any Bulldog (record 198, Josh Robinson at Kentucky 2014). This was the most rushing yards ever by a Mississippi State quarterback. Bond had the record at 163, and that was in the 1980 Egg Bowl win.
Coach Dan Mullen, who is much better-known for developing passing quarterbacks, said he went with Fitzgerald for all of game-two because “We want to be able to run the football more.” Fitzgerald ran just twice in his first start, last week’s opener…actually just once as he also kneeled for loss of two. And after two series QB Damian Williams replaced him for the rest of the game, and was team-leading rusher at 93 yards.
But there was no questioning Fitzgerald’s superiority as a real running threat. Mullen gave him another start but this time game him the whole game. A team win and a personal record resulted.
Fitzgerald savors the win, but also for personal reasons. “Honestly it’s been my dream since I was six. Being a SEC quarterback and winning a SEC football game. I finally made my six-year-old self proud tonight. It feels great.”
This was a proud moment for the 20-year-old, for sure. In only one way did reality not quite mesh with dream. “I’m a lot more sore than I thought I’d be, so there’s that. I don’t know how much I imagined that back then. I hope it was this good.”
Of his record total 193 yards, 74 of them came on a single scramble down the South Carolina sideline. “That was shocking, I thought he was going to get caught at the 50,” WR Fred Ross said. “He kept going and it was like he hit another gear.”
OPENING ACT: His college debut was delayed a week for an incident that occurred far from campus and before enrollment. Over the summer DT Jeffery Simmons stuck to his class and team business and ignored outside noise about charges arising from his family fracas. The case was resolved in court.
Still even before officially joining the Mississippi State team for June summer school, it was announced the incoming freshman would serve a one-game suspension. Mullen has insisted he did not participate in the decision. He simply left it open how soon after the one penalty game Simmons would play.
It was just about immediately.
Taking his place at tackle on the third South Carolina series, and with first down on the MSU 39-yard line, Simmons was lead tackler on a stop of A.J. Turner. A missed field goal resulted in the stalled series. Mid-way of the second period Simmons was back on the field and in the Gamecock backfield, stuffing Turner and knocking the ball loose for Jonathan Calvin to recover.
The freshman finished with four tackles (two solo, two assists) and 1.5 of them for losses. “I guess he did OK?” Mullen quipped. An older and voluble teammate had more to say. DT A.J. Jefferson is jealous.
“I haven’t even forced a fumble yet, and I’m scratching my head like how did he do that?!” the senior captain said. “But watching him out there, it’s the stuff he practices. So I wasn’t surprised one bit. It was just a matter when it was going to happen.”
BAG MEN: Jefferson could afford to be funny. He scored a sack, his third of the season already; with five total stops.
Calvin, who recovered that Simmons-forced fumble, had a first-quarter sack of his own.
SOUTHPAW SURPRISE: It’s not something listed on football rosters. But being a left-hander came in handy for WR Fred Ross.
With a 7-0 lead and on the South Carolina 17 with second-and-three, State went into the bag for an oldie but goodie. At least it always was when Dak Prescott was taking the snap, giving the ball to a receiver—usually Jameon Lewis—and drifting against the flow for a throwback pass.
This year it is Fitzgerald taking the ball and giving to Ross. Except Ross looked elsewhere as he ran to his left side. Why State called for the gadget play then? “I don’t know, that’s a Coach Mullen call. I guess I can throw a little bit from last year so he had faith in me.”
Ross was 1-of-1 last year with a 34-yard completion. This was half the distance but did go for a touchdown…because the wideout was a southpaw. As he kept rolling a Gamecock defensive lineman closed in and jumped to influence any throw. Jumped on Ross’ right side, that is.
Which still left a clear field of view and fire for lefty Ross to unload where he figured WR Donald Gray would be. Or at least get to.
“Just from the reps in practice I knew he was going to be over there. And I’ve got all the faith in Donald Gray is going to make that play. I threw it to a spot and knew Donald was going to make it happen.”
Indeed Gray was a couple strides’ in front of Jamarcus King and ran under the ball for the touchdown. But way back over on the right side Fitzgerald had run his own route.
“It was supposed to go to him, so he was a little mad at me!” Ross said. Or not. “It’s fine, I still love him,” Fitzgerald added.
And as things played out, it was lovely to have a lefty throwing in that situation. Though, “I wouldn’t say lucky,” said Ross. “I’m blessed.”
BOSS ROSS: So, two games into his senior season, Fred Ross has:
12 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown of six yards;
One rush last week for 46 yards;
Four punt returns for 37 yards;
And now his 17-yard touchdown pass play. So, what else can Ross do for State?
“I don’t know, man, we’re going to see next week. We might have a little wildcat back there.”
PETERS BUILT: He was only moved from safety late in training camp due to injuries, and just for a couple of short practice days. Then last week CB Jamal Peters only saw action on special teams.
But after a bad opening weekend for Bulldog cornerbacks, the true sophomore was given an opportunity. And it came with the game only in the first quarter as Peters replaced starter CB Lashard Durr. South Carolina made nothing of the change that period. In the second, down 14-0, the Gamecocks did try to get a downfield strike. Peters read it, left his man and got over in front of Bryan Edwards for the interception at State’s 28-yard line.
It was State’s first forced turnover of the season.
MSU-ELLANEOUS: State snapped a seven-loss series in this inter-Division series, beating South Carolina for the first time since 1999. It was Dan Mullen’s first win over the Gamecocks at State, and leaves Alabama as the only league team he has not defeated here… State has now won its last five games against Eastern Division teams. All victories have been by double-digit margins… Simmons became the third true scholarship freshman to play this season, joining WR Jamal Couch and DT Marquiss Spencer… TE Jordan Thomas, a junior transfer, made his MSU debut this week and made it a good one with a touchdown catch from Fitzgerald in the second quarter… Two Dogs who like Simmons were suspended for last week both played in game-two: WR Malik Dear and DT Nick James… TE Justin Johnson and DT Cory Thomas both were first-time starters… With both teams in locker rooms, halftime was extended by lightning strikes in the designated eight-mile area. The delay lasted 1:03 including a ten-minute warm-up.