Two Bulldogs were honored today as Southeastern Conference players of the week for their winning work over the weekend. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was named the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Week; and linebacker Leo Lewis the league’s Freshman of the Week.
These underclassmen were leading figures in Mississippi State’s 55-20 rout of Ole Miss in the annual Battle for the Golden Egg. In Fitzgerald’s case, a record-setting rout.
The sophomore quarterback and first-year starter was playing in his first Egg Bowl. Fitzgerald made it one for the books with 367 yards of total offense and five touchdowns. He threw for just 109 yards but three of his eight completions went for touchdowns.
What stood out among SEC quarterbacks and all offensive players though was Fitzgerald’s rushing. On just 14 carries, one of them a sack, he netted 258 yards and scored twice. In the process Fitzgerald ended the regular season with the third-most rushing yards ever by a SEC quarterback, and the two ahead of him (Cam Newton 2010 and Johnny Manziel 2013) both had post-season games to pad their totals. So this SEC mark could be in danger if Mississippi State is awarded a bowl bid, as is now expected.
Fitzgerald was also SEC offensive top player three weeks ago with a four-touchdown, 391-total yard day in State’s upset of Texas A&M. But he had to share the recognition that week. This time State’s quarterback owns the honor all to himself.
This week’s Freshman OTW award is the first league recognition for second-year freshman Lewis. He was credited by the host-team statistics crew with six total tackles; four solos and two assists. He had one sack and a half-tackle for loss as well. The sack was Lewis’ first of the fall.
This honor is as much a recognition for what Lewis has done over the full 2016 season as in the last game of the schedule. He now has 72 total tackles in his first varsity season, which is not only second-most on the Bulldog defense. It is the most tackles by any freshman in the entire conference.
There is no small irony in these recognitions, related to this particular game and opponent. Lewis’ signing with Mississippi State still rankles the losing Rebels, and last week their supporters raised dubious claims of improprieties being recorded on a phone calls. Word of Lewis’ honor likely sounds too clearly there now.
For his part Fitzgerald is another of Dan Mullen’s success stories developing a low-rated quarterback recruit. In his first Egg Bowl action Fitzgerald was matched with a five-star prospect freshman who did come out ahead in total yardage 393 to 367.
But Fitzgerald trumped his younger peer with five touchdowns to two. And, of course, he and his team won the game and brought the Golden Egg home.