Improved performance: Fitzgerald has better passing game to lead Bulldogs to victory

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, right, prepares to take the snap from center Elgton Jenkins.

Staff Writer

Nick Fitzgerald’s heart was beating a little bit slower on Saturday night. The week prior, the Mississippi State quarterback was playing in his first football game since breaking his ankle at the end of last season. The excitement led to several overthrows and passes just off the mark. With jitters out of the way, Fitzgerald said he could settle in Saturday against Louisiana. It showed.

Fitzgerald’s improved, accurate passing was key as he threw pass after pass right on the money to help No. 16 Mississippi State wallop Louisiana 56-10.

“As for my throws, I just settled down after getting the adrenaline out of the way from the first game (back after the injury),” Fitzgerald said. “I was making the throws (last week) and not missing by much, but missing a little bit. I connected on them (Saturday).”

Fitzgerald completed 14 of his 21 pass attempts for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Ragin’ Cajuns (1-1). He also ran for 107 yards and four scores, however it was his improved throwing that often stole the show.

So what changed in a week’s time? Not much said Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead.

“To be honest, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of variation from what we normally do,” Moorhead said of the work Fitzgerald put in over the last few days. “We watched the film from last week and saw some things that could be done better – particularly on those overthrows. I was confident that Nick knocking the rust off in his first start in our system (last week) that he was going to improve coming out in game two. (Quarterbacks coach Andrew) Breiner did a great job with him. Nick practiced to correct things then came out (Saturday) and did as we expected and took another positive step forward.”

Fitzgerald hit seven passes for 23 or more yards. He led Stephen Guidry perfectly along the sideline for a 39-yard touchdown toss. He found Keith Mixon over the middle of the field multiple times. He did the same with Austin Williams, hitting him in the numbers in stride. He nailed Deddrick Thomas on a game-long 44-yard completion.

Moorhead was happy to see his signal caller stretching the field.

“I think that forces the defense to defend the run and the pass with equal respect to both parts of it,” Moorhead said. “I think on first and second downs, a big part of what we do is run the playaction pass. For us to be able to distort coverage and get the looks that we want to push the ball down the field, we have to be able to take advantage of those explosive plays.”

Fitzgerald had the biggest night of any Bulldog, but he had plenty of help. Mixon caught four passes for a total of 80 yards and a touchdown. Guidry had three receptions for 57 yards and his score.

On the ground, Aeris Williams had a bounce-back night. A week after he didn’t see the field because Moorhead said he didn’t meet standards in practice, Williams ran 11 times for 101 yards and a touchdown.

In all, State totaled 607 yards of offense Saturday. The Bulldogs are now averaging 587.7 yards of total offense per game through the first three contests.

While defensively, State allowed 310 yards on Saturday including 245 through the air, the Bulldogs are still averaging allowing less than nine points per game.

The Bulldogs, now 3-0 overall, are hopeful all the impressive numbers and showings are only the beginning. Mississippi State begins conference play next week at Kentucky.