Mississippi State football: 10 things we’ll remember most about the Bulldogs' 2018 regular season
Well, regular season, it’s been real. As astonishing as it may be, the regular season is now over. As if you didn’t already know that time does, in fact, move at 2x speed from September through November, here’s your yearly reminder.
For the Mississippi State Bulldogs, it has been, overall, a solid year.
Finishing the regular season 8-4 (4-4) with key wins over Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, the Bulldogs essentially were what we thought they’d be – a good but not great team. If we’re truly being honest, it was, perhaps, a disappointing season, considering their overall talent level and the fact that they had arguably the best defense in all of college football.
Still, it was a pretty good year for the Bulldogs, one that featured plenty of highlights. Here are the 10 things we’ll remember most about Mississippi State’s regular season.
10. Historic games offensively
Prior to 2018, the Bulldogs had surpassed 600 yards of offense in a single game just five times in program history. Under first-year head coach Joe Moorhead, they surpassed that number twice in their first three games, tallying 618 against Stephen F. Austin and 607 against Louisiana-Lafayette, which was State’s fifth and sixth most all time. For perspective, Dan Mullen surpassed the 600-yard mark five times in nine years and didn’t cross the barrier until his third season at the helm.
9. Offensive woes in big games
As mentioned above, the highs for the offense were historic, but man were the lows low. State lost four games, and you can’t blame the defense for any of them. The culprit was an offense that ground to a halt. Against Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Alabama, the offense accumulated 16 points – total. Against the cream of the SEC West’s crop, in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa, the offense produced just 429 yards combined. An offense that couldn’t score when it mattered the most was the difference between eight wins in the regular season vs. 10-plus.
8. Nick Fitzgerald, up and down
The senior will go down in the record books as one of the best players in program history, and with one game to go he is third all time in career passing yards (6,055) and second in rushing yards (3,054). In 2018, when he was on – ULL, Texas A&M, Arkansas – he was on, producing 891 total yards of offense and 15 touchdowns. When he was off, however – Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Alabama –he was really off, producing 587 total yards with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions.
7. Gashing a great Auburn front seven
No doubt a highlight of the season was the thumping of the Auburn Tigers, who were ranked No. 8 at the time. Coming on the heels of brutal losses against Kentucky and Florida, the Bulldogs desperately needed a win against the Tigers to avoid a catastrophic midseason swoon. They responded with a resounding 23-9 victory at home, rushing for a whopping 349 yards and averaging 6.1 yards per carry against one of the most talented defensive fronts in all of college football.
6. Montez Sweat, back-to-back
A catalyst for the defense the past two years has been Sweat, who has inarguably been one of the premier edge rushers in all of college football since the beginning of 2017. With one game remaining in his illustrious career, Sweat is tied for fifth on the all-time sacks list for Mississippi State, racking up 22 in 25 games. The 6-6, 250-pounder has shown elite bend, flexibility and burst off the edge, with the ability to both run the arc and counter inside, making for a horrific nightmare for SEC offensive tackles.
5. Strength along the interior
Why were the Bulldogs good this year? One of the primary reasons was that they were obnoxiously strong along the interior of both lines. The middle of the offensive line was able to consistently generate a push in the run game, providing ample room for Fitzgerald, Kylin Hill and Aeris Williams to run, and provided protection against the pass rush. The middle of the defensive line consistently penetrated the backfield to disrupt rushing lanes and pressure opposing quarterbacks. As they say, you want to build a team from the inside out, and this team was formidable on the inside.
4. Johnathan Abram was a monster
The senior safety was a playmaker throughout the year, and he finished the regular season with 93 tackles (most on the team), 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and 2 INTs. He was a catalyst for the entire defense, providing elite playmaking ability on the flats in coverage, against the run and rushing the passer. There’s a reason he’s considered the best safety prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft class, and it’s because few can disrupt an offense like Abram.
3. What a defense
Regardless of what happens in the Bulldogs’ bowl game, this is arguably the best defense in school history, and through 12 games it has allowed just 144 points. Their 12 points allowed per game is the best in the country and the program’s best since 1981, when they allowed just 11.4. They’ve allowed just 164.2 passing yards and 105.1 rushing yards per game, which, prior to the slate of Saturday games, was eighth and 10th best nationally, and the 269.3 total yards allowed per game was third best.
2. Egg Bowl beatdown
Few things matter more to Mississippi State fans than beating their archrivals from Oxford, and this year produced a resounding victory on the road, 35-3. The Rebels offense, which was hyped all year as one of the best nationally, truly met its match in the Bulldogs defense, producing a season-low 199 total yards and failing to find the end zone even once. This was a beatdown of epic proportions and will no doubt leave a lasting impression on the in-state recruits of the 2019 class.
1. The beginning of the Moorhead era
2018 was Year 1 of the Joe Moorhead era and should, by and large, produce optimism. I dare say that this will be the worst offense he’ll put on the field. Why? No offense to Fitzgerald, who is, as previously stated, one of the best quarterbacks in school history, but he was a horrific passer. Moorhead’s offense is fueled by successful passes downfield that stretch a defense vertically, and it was completely hamstrung this year by an inability to consistently complete intermediate and deep passes. When Moorhead brings in one of his handpicked quarterback prospects – like 4-star Garrett Shrader, who is verbally committed to State – we’ll begin to see his offensive playbook really open up. I know there are a great many Bulldogs fans who cooled on Moorhead as the season progressed, but make no mistake, he’s only going to get better and better. And for what it’s worth, State fans can take solace in knowing they have the best football coach in the Magnolia State.