The Mississippi State dream is dead.
Let’s simply acknowledge that and confront reality instead of trying to deny it any longer.
By Matt Zemek
The 2018 MSU dream – namely, that Joe Moorhead would be able to come into Starkville and lift Nick Fitzgerald to the next level, giving this team a chance at a New Year’s Six bowl bid – is no longer realistic. Alabama and LSU are still ahead on the schedule, and even if MSU merely splits those games, it would still have to win every other game to have a remote chance of making an NY6 game. So, that’s not going to happen. People in and around the program are better off admitting it than trying to fight against it.
Mississippi State has to avoid worrying about what it has lost and focus on trying to beat some highly talented SEC West opponents in the coming weeks. The first in that series of opponents is Auburn. Four years ago, Mississippi State beat Auburn to become the No. 1 team in the country. This year’s game doesn’t possess nearly the kind of stakes everyone in Starkville hoped for, but if the Bulldogs can turn back the Tigers, MSU fans will know that this season is still salvageable, and that the program is in better shape than previously thought.
The hope right now for MSU is that this season won’t crater and end up at 6-6. Let’s see if this team can pick up some of the pieces and do enough to go 8-4, or 7-5 at minimum.
1 – HIT THE JACKPOT
The problems facing South Carolina and quarterback Jake Bentley are also largely the problems facing Mississippi State and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Defenses are forcing these quarterbacks to throw short passes. Neither South Carolina nor Mississippi State are hitting many big plays. The scouting report on both offenses says that if you can force them to be patient and avoid stretching the field, the Gamecocks’ and Bulldogs’ offenses will stall. These teams do not finish drives. Mississippi State therefore has to relieve itself of the need to produce lengthy drives. Fitzgerald has to crack the code and exploit Auburn’s secondary, which is not the strongest part of the Tigers’ defensive unit. Persistence with the downfield passing game can bear fruit for MSU in this game.
What’s more is that it will have to. There really isn’t a better choice or plan of attack.
2 – DON’T CHANGE ON DEFENSE
Through all of the offense’s profound struggles, the defense has been more than good enough. What do fans always get mad about? Many things, but one of them is that when the defense has done well in multiple games, it then regresses precisely when the offense improves. Neither unit plays well at the same time in the same game. The MSU defense has to use blinders and establish tunnel vision. It has to trust that if it keeps playing well, the offense will come around. Victories will follow.
3 – DEVISING A PLAN
The offense isn’t good. The O-line isn’t good. The quarterback is struggling. There is no instant fix, but Moorhead has to be willing to think in a fresh, new way. Will we see evidence of that versus Auburn on Saturday?