Smith on Sports: MSU survives UMass scare, Alabama next

Danny P. Smith
Staff Writer

Survive. That’s what the Mississippi State Bulldogs did on Saturday.
MSU football coach Dan Mullen tried to tell everyone who would listen last week that the UMass Minutemen were capable of playing good football.

The Minutemen came to Starkville, punched the Bulldogs in the mouth and it took MSU a little while to respond.

Nick Fitzgerald was picked off twice in the first half, the defense gave up a big play for a touchdown and the Bulldogs found themselves down 20-13 at halftime.

MSU got it together in the second half and pulled out a 34-23 decision over UMass at Davis Wade Stadium.

It was the first time this season that Bulldogs played a game that was pretty much down to the wire. They only led 27-23 until Deddrick Thomas returned his 83-yard punt return for a touchdown with 5 minutes left in the game.

“We haven’t been put in one of these situations all year,” MSU defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. “We thank (UMass) for that because it shows where everyone is.”

Probably most of the 57,374 in attendance Saturday just assumed that the Bulldogs were going to win handily. When that didn’t happen, the crowd became a little bit restless. There were even some boos.

Mullen didn’t panic. He got his squad into the locker room at halftime and all he asked from his players was do their job and execute.

In the second half, Fitzgerald put together two nice scoring drives that resulted in a pair of touchdown runs and State wrestled the lead from the Minutemen.

UMass head coach Mark Whipple said the situation ultimately played right into Fitzgerald’s hands.

“The plan was to get in at halftime with the lead which we did,” Whipple said. “We wanted to make sure they had a long field. We played good in the red zone on defense. It went the way I hoped it would go. Credit goes to those guys. They came out in the second half and ran the ball pretty well on us.

“With Fitzgerald, it’s kind of his best thing.”

Fitzgerald does a good job of adjusting to whatever part of his game is working the best. When he had the two interceptions, he seemed to go more to the running game. He made the plays necessary to win the game in the second half.

With their final non-conference regular season game behind them, the focus of the Bulldogs (7-2) shifts to the Alabama Crimson Tide, who some considered the No. 1 team in the country.

MSU can’t come out like it did against UMass and expect to be in the game next week with Alabama. The Crimson Tide take mistakes by the opposing team and turn them into points.

If the Bulldogs go down by two or three scores at halftime, it won’t be a pleasant experience for them in Starkville.

Danny P. Smith is the sports editor and columnist for The Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SDN or its staff.