Mississippi State football: 10 bold predictions for the second half of the season
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are entering the second half of the 2018 season, and they’re doing so with some momentum after beating then-No. 8 Auburn before their bye week.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the Bulldogs in the second half, and remember, while you should certainly give me credit for the things I get right, I can’t be held accountable for the things I get wrong.
10. Bulldogs win in Baton Rouge
Yep, I think State beats the Tigers in Death Valley this week. LSU is coming off two very physical games in a row and now have to face arguably its most physical test of the season against Mississippi State. Coming off a win over Auburn and a bye week, the Bulldogs are confident and rested. The Tigers are coming off a huge win over No. 2 Georgia, but I imagine they’re a bit drained both physically and emotionally at this point. Mississippi State is catching the Tigers at the right time.
9. Nick Fitzgerald finishes with more rushing yards than passing
It became evident in the past three games that Fitzgerald’s regression as a passer isn’t going to change anytime soon, and his biggest contribution to the offense will be as a ball carrier instead of a passer. I think what we saw against a very good Auburn defense — when Fitzgerald attempted just 17 passes for 69 yards while carrying the ball 28 times for 195 yards — will be the Bulldogs’ game plan the rest of the season.
8. Multiple Bulldogs cross 1,000 yards rushing
You can go ahead and pencil both Fitzgerald and RB Kylin Hill in to rush for more than 1,000 yards this year. Fitzgerald is already well on his way, having rushed for 513 yards in five games, and while Hill took a back seat in the offense after Kansas State (19 carries over the next three games), he again became a primary weapon against Auburn, rushing for 126 yards on 23 carries. Expect him to continue playing a big role.
7. Keytaon Thompson gets some time
One might be amazed to find out that Thompson had more passing TDs in his lone game as a starter this year (5) than Fitzgerald has after starting the last five games (4). At some point between now and the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs are going to have to pass the ball, and there’s no reason to have any faith in Fitzgerald from his performances this year. Thompson (47 percent) isn’t any more accurate than Fitzgerald (54.5 percent) as a career passer, but he has been much more effective taking shots downfield (7.9 yards per attempt vs. 6.6) and similar in taking care of the ball (both carry a 3 percent interception rate). Plus, Thompson is arguably just as effective as a ball carrier (607 career rushing yards on 90 carries with 9 TDs). Why not give him some looks in the offense?
6. Montez Sweat finishes as national sack leader
Heading into week 7 and with 8 sacks under his belt, Sweat was second nationally in total sacks, one behind Jordan Brailford of Oklahoma State. Brailford has the fortune of playing in the Big 12, meaning he’ll be rushing the passer upwards of 80 plays a game, but Sweat is the superior player, and playing alongside an elite defensive line means teams can’t double him on every play. My money is on Sweat.
5. A record for rushing yards in a season will be set
Currently, the school record for rushing yards in a season is 3,272, set last year. They averaged 48.8 rushes for 251.7 yards per game. The Bulldogs of 2018 are averaging 40 rushes for 240.7 yards per game, which puts them on pace for 3,129 yards on the season, just behind the record. With that said, their game against Auburn (57 rushes for 349 yards) is likely indicative of their offensive strategy moving forward, so I think there’s a chance they blow right past the record.
4. The Bulldogs will rush for 400-plus yards in the Egg Bowl
It doesn’t take a brilliant mathematician to realize that when you have a very good rushing attack facing a very bad run defense, things could get ugly in a hurry. The Rebels are on pace to allow 2,328 rushing yards this season (remember, just 12 games), giving up 4.5 yards per carry. Against power rushing teams like Alabama and LSU, they gave up 491 rushing yards (5.22 per carry) and 6 TDs. State just ran for 349 yards (6.1 per carry) on Auburn, and Ole Miss doesn’t have a single player on defense who would crack Auburn’s 2-deep, especially in the front seven. 400 yards is almost a likelihood; could we see 500-plus? Time will tell.
3. State wins the Egg Bowl for second time in three years
After reading the above, I mean, do I really need to elaborate? Granted, this rivalry can be really unpredictable at times (last year comes to mind), but it would be more than shocking if State drops this game, even considering that it’s being played in Oxford.
2. Joe Moorhead finishes first season with three regular-season losses
Now that State has figured out their identity on offense (run the ball, run the ball and run the ball some more) to pair with one of the best defenses in the country (currently No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 12.7 points per game), they have a chance to really do some damage the rest of the season. An elite rushing attack to go with an elite defense is generally the perfect recipe for an historic season. Barring a miracle in Tuscaloosa, I don’t see them winning out, because no sane mind would pick anyone against Alabama this year. That said, take away Alabama and I think State wins the rest of their games to finish the regular season 9-3 (5-3 in SEC play).
1. Future regret and wonder will plague fans as a result
If State goes 9-3, they’ll still be in good position to go to a good bowl game (Sugar Bowl, perhaps), and they could very well finish 10-3, which is a damn fine year. But if State finishes 10-3, fans are always going to wonder what this season could’ve been had they not waited so long to abandon the passing attack. Instead of trying to employ a balanced offense to beat both Kentucky and Florida, what if they had just ground them down into a pulp with the rushing attack like they did against Auburn? What if State had won both of those games and gone 11-1? (Note: I still don’t think they would’ve beaten Bama in this scenario.)
Would 11-1 have been good enough to make the Playoff? It sure was for Alabama last year, and they went on to win the whole thing. This could be a very, very good season for Mississippi State, but there’s a chance fans will always wonder what it could’ve been had Moorhead not waited until Week 6 to abandon the passing attack.