MSU's Bulldogs bark, but no bite

Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald (7) takes a hit.
Staff Writer

A little under an hour before kickoff Saturday at Georgia, Mississippi State players were heading back to the locker room after pregame warmups.

MSU staffers formed a line to herd their players into its tunnel while several State players pointed and jawed at Georgia’s brand of Bulldogs as they loosened up.

Mississippi State was full of bark. Once the game began, there was little bite from the Bulldogs of Starkville.

No. 11 Georgia controlled the game at every turn as No. 17 MSU lost 31-3 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. Mississippi State surrendered touchdowns on Georgia’s first two drives of the game to fall behind 14-0, then struggled to find a rhythm offensively to climb out of the early hole.

It was an all-around disappointing performance for MSU (3-1, 1-1) just one week after State surged into the national rankings following a 37-7 beatdown of LSU. Things came nowhere near as easy against Georgia (4-0, 1-0).

“I don’t think we executed at a very high level in any of the three phases to be honest,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “We started slow. We didn’t execute really clean throughout the course of the game in all three phases. If you’re out on the road and you play a team as good as Georgia and you don’t execute, you’re not going to win.”

Mississippi State led the Southeastern Conference in scoring offense coming into Saturday, but MSU looked nothing like an elite offensive team against the SEC’s other set of Bulldogs. State totaled just 280 offensive yards.

Even quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had a quiet night in his return to the stadium where he used to attend games as a Georgia fan back as a kid.

Fitzgerald passed for just 83 yards and threw a pair of critical interceptions. He only ran for 47 yards.

In Fitzgerald's mind, MSU’s struggles didn’t actually start Saturday. He said they began in practice leading up to the game.

“We saw (a lack of execution) in practice, having to redo a lot of plays and we were kind of messing up a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “It kind of rolled over into the game.”

Meanwhile, MSU’s defense finally showed chinks in its armor after three weeks in which State averaged allowing only 9.3 points per game. The two main culprits of the damage were Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm and running back Nick Chubb.

Chubb ran for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile Fromm put up the best game of his young career. The true freshman was forced into action earlier this year after a knee injury to starter Jacob Eason in the season opener, and Saturday Fromm passed for 201 yards and a pair of scores.

“Our job was to make the quarterback throw,” MSU’s Braxton Hoyett said. “He really didn’t have to do it all (himself) though because we were missing tackles. That’s just something we’ve got to work on in practice.”
Fromm’s very first pass of the night set the tone for the entire evening.

Mississippi State received the opening kickoff, but Georgia quickly forced a three-and-out. Georgia then started its first possession on its own 41-yard line and ran a flea-flicker on the first play. MSU’s defense bit on the handoff, which was then pitched back to Fromm, who heaved a 59-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Terry Godwin. Just like that, State was back on its heels.

“That was just execution,” MSU cornerback Tolando Cleveland said of the flea-flicker. “We have to have the right guys in the right places at the right time.”

It didn’t take long for Georgia to tack on. One defensive stop later, Georgia started at its own 22 and drove 78 yards on eight plays. Chubb put his team up 14-0 with a 7-yard touchdown run.

Mississippi State never threatened Georgia’s lead from there.

MSU did finally crack the scoreboard in the waning moments of the first half when Jace Christmann nailed a 26-yard field goal to pull State within 14-3 at halftime. It was a missed opportunity for State though after MSU had driven down inside the Georgia 10-yard line.

“It was tough,” Mullen said. “You’d like to get a touchdown out of that drive.”

After the intermission, the wheels fell completely off for MSU.

Georgia got the football first in the third quarter and immediately drove down the field and scored. Chubb pushed the football across the goal line on a 28-yard rush out of the wildcat formation.

Fitzgerald followed by throwing both of his interceptions over the course of the rest of the period. Both led to points for Georgia.

“The two interceptions hurt us,” Mullen said. “Those are drive killers.”

Fitzgerald’s first pick turned into a 41-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to Isaac Nauta. The second led to a 49-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship.

From there, the writing was on the wall. Mississippi State was headed for its first loss of the season.

MSU did threaten to get a touchdown in the game’s final seconds. State got all the way down to the Georgia 1-yard line before freshman running back Kylin Hill was stuffed as time expired.

It was a fitting end to this night – a night where, try as it might, Mississippi State couldn’t do what it wanted to do.

State credited Georgia for some of that. However MSU felt like the biggest culprit in the loss was itself.

“We beat ourselves,” Cleveland said. “They didn’t do anything we weren’t prepared for. We just have to get lined up and play.

“We’re a hard working team. We’re going to have to stay a hard-working team. Every individual has to work hard and we have to execute.”