Rapid reaction: Mississippi State blocks upset bid in St. Petersburg Bowl
Maybe it was the crazy early kickoff time — 10 a.m. back home in Starkville.
Maybe it was a hangover from a day on the beach.
Maybe it was the opponent — a .500 club from the MAC that entered as a two-touchdown underdog.
Whatever the reasons, Mississippi State slept through the first half of Monday’s St. Petersburg Bowl before rallying to beat Miami (Ohio) 17-16. A blocked field goal attempt — the Bulldogs’ second block of the game — saved the day and gave the SEC its first bowl win of 2016.
You didn’t have to be one of the few inside Tropicana Field to notice to slow start, either.
Mississippi State is putting on an all-time mail it in bowl performance right now.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 26, 2016
The Bulldogs’ first three possessions resulted in as many punts (3) as completions — and many more not-fit-for-print words from coach Dan Mullen.
Miami (Ohio) quarterback Gus Ragland, a 2-star prospect who was ranked the No. 2,382 player in the 2014 class, outplayed classmate Nick Fitzgerald.
And as Hail State fans are all too familiar, the Bulldogs go as Fitzgerald goes. For most of the first half, he and they were trapped on their side of midfield.
Donald Gray had two critical drops, but Fitzgerald also threw two passes that should have been intercepted. He started 3 of 9 for just 26 yards — and wasn’t any more effective as a runner.
The Bulldogs crossed the 50 just once before Fitzgerald capped a 64-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard run with 22 seconds left in the first half.
Miami, which dominated the opening 30 minutes, led just 9-7.
— MSU Football 🏈 (@HailStateFB) December 26, 2016
Analysts spent halftime explaining how the Bulldogs were the better team, had superior athletes and would prove both after the break.
Instead, Fred Ross dropped what might have been a walk-in touchdown on the Bulldogs’ opening drive and Miami soon was threatening again.
Ragland, again, was the key. He completed five passes that covered 63 yards, the final toss a play-action throw to tight end Ryan Smith for a 1-yard touchdown that extended Miami’s lead to 16-7.
It was Ragland’s 17th touchdown pass of the season — against zero career interceptions.
His first, however, turned the momentum.
After Fitzgerald scored on a 44-yard run to make it 16-14, Jamoral Graham intercepted Ragland’s pass at the Bulldogs’ 9.
Fitzgerald then converted a key 3rd-and-4 with a 26-yard run. An unnecessary roughness and targeting penalty helped set up Westin Graves’ 36-yard field goal.
It took more than 45 minutes, but Mississippi State finally had its first lead — 17-16, against a team that opened the season with six consecutive losses and came in ranked No. 104 in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings.
Fitzgerald, named MVP, ran for 142 yards — his eighth 100-yard rushing game this season. More important, he scored both touchdowns, pushing his season total to 16.
Mullen earned his fifth bowl victory, extending his Bulldogs record. He said afterward that the Bulldogs didn’t make a lot of plays, but they certainly made the key play.
Mississippi State BLOCKED the FG!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 26, 2016