Another week, another night game for South Carolina. This time, a little more cowbell will be present as the Gamecocks travel to Starkville, Miss., for a 7 p.m. ET kickoff.
For more on Mississippi State, we turned to Joel Coleman, the Mississippi State beat writer for The Starkville Daily and the Bulldogs Radio host. You can follow Joel on Twitter or find his work here on The Starkville Daily News Bulldog Blog.
But right now, you can gain valuable insight on Mississippi State from his answers:
Wilson: What has the attitude of the players and coaches been heading into this week after an upset loss against South Alabama?
Coleman: By all accounts of the guys I’ve talked to, losing to South Alabama served as a wake-up call for the team. We were told Dan Mullen apologized to the team and said that he let them down. Practice has supposedly been intense. During our weekly press conference with Mullen, he had a very noticeable scratch/cut on his nose. He said after the press conference that came during practice as he was running around and mentioned the scrape as an example of how hard everyone had been working. Now, of course, everyone is going to say they are working hard. What else are they going to say, you know? But the guys we’ve talked to this week seem borderline mad and seem ready to prove last week was just a case of a young team getting a lead, thinking they had it in the bag and coasting to the point where they were embarrassed.
Wilson: Just like South Carolina, Mississippi State rolled out two quarterbacks in Week 1. How much of a surprise was it to see Nick Fitzgerald play so little after starting? And are both Fitzgerald and Damian Williams expected to see the field again?
Coleman: The assumption in the media room for most of last spring and much of fall camp was that Nick Fitzgerald would eventually be THE guy for State this year. Then, as the opener crept closer, the rumblings kept growing that he hadn’t gone out in practices and scrimmages and really taken the bull by the horns to truly separate himself. So it was no surprise that both men played in week 1. Mullen told us prior to the game last week he’d be using both guys. But yes, it was surprising to only see Fitzgerald for the first two offensive series (both three and outs). Yes, Williams entered and MSU scored on the first four drives Williams orchestrated, but when State’s offense bogged down in the second half, I felt sure Fitzgerald would get another chance to provide a spark. That didn’t happen. Now, Mullen has made it clear since then that nothing was settled as far as who would be the QB going forward, so yes, I expect to see both guys again this week. My guess would be Williams gets the first crack at it this week just because of his somewhat successful game last week. But I’d be floored if Fitzgerald doesn’t get another chance to prove he has the higher ceiling of the two.
Wilson: Sticking with quarterbacks, how has the Mississippi State offense changed with Dak Prescott gone and Fitzgerald/Williams under center now?
Coleman: I hate to avoid the question a little with this answer, but I don’t really think we know all that well just yet. It all depends on which quarterback becomes the primary guy. Fitzgerald and Williams both have different strengths. Both are fair to good runners (Fitzgerald is considered to be the best runner of the two, although Williams ran for 93 yards last week), but the passing game is different with each. Fitzgerald has a big arm and has the ability to stretch defenses. Williams is almost always a short-to-medium range kind of guy.
I think in a perfect world, Mullen would love to get his offense back to what was his calling card before State became a pass-heavy team in Dak’s senior year. That is, I think Mullen would prefer to get back to his run-first spread. He has the backs to do it. He has the QBs to do it, regardless of which one wins the job. The question is, does State have the line to do that?
Wilson: On the defensive side, how much of a boost do you expect Nick James and Jeffery Simmons to give the defensive front? And what is the best way for a team to attack the Bulldogs?
Coleman: I think James and Simmons (assuming they play this week, which we all anticipate) will have a big impact. If nothing else, they make MSU’s already-pretty-good D-line unit deeper. I think a big part of last week’s game (though it shouldn’t have come down to this) was the defensive line becoming fatigued. Adding two more bodies to that mix can only help. When it’s two bodies the caliber of James and Simmons, that’s a pretty big boost.
As for attacking State, that answer is clear right now. THROW, THROW, THROW and THROW again. Both of State’s expected starting corners (Seniors Tolando Cleveland and Cedric Jiles) were injured in camp. Cleveland is out for the year. Jiles is out until at least mid-season. That means the guys expected to be State’s Nos. 3 and 4 corners are now Nos. 1 and 2.
State’s safeties are decent (one is actually really good in sophomore Brandon Bryant) but nobody should be scared of MSU’s secondary right now. Maybe MSU’s defensive backs get a chip on their shoulders and go prove everybody wrong, but right now, I’d sure make them have to do that. I think State has the capability to shut down running games with its front seven, but I think even bad passing attacks might succeed against the Bulldogs.
Wilson: How do you see things unfolding Saturday night?
Coleman: If this wasn’t at home for State, I’d probably favor South Carolina. But it is at home. And it’s at night. Davis Wade Stadium is usually a great atmosphere for conference games at night. So I think you’ll see an MSU team that is mad and embarrassed and ready to make amends for last week, plus a hostile crowd looking to carry their team to the win in what is kind of a must-win game for State if it hopes to get to bowl eligibility. I feel like it’s going to be low-scoring. I don’t see either offense being capable of making this one a shootout. As cliche as it may be, this is a game that I think will be decided by which defense gets the big turnover and gives their team a short field to work with. That component actually might favor South Carolina, because State hasn’t forced all that many turnovers in the last year-plus. In the end though, I think State narrowly wins this one. I’m in no way confident with that pick though. If the Gamecocks came in and put up a repeat performance of the win over Vandy last week, that wouldn’t surprise me either. This game has 10-7, 13-10 or 17-14 written all over it I think, regardless of which team ends up winning.