College Football
No. 21 Mississippi State trending upward as November arrives
College Football

No. 21 Mississippi State trending upward as November arrives

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 10:54 p.m. ET

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The combination of coach Joe Moorhead's offensive philosophy and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald's run-first reputation has resulted in a volatile mix through their first eight games together.

It's been beautiful at times. At other moments, downright ugly.

But the 21st-ranked Bulldogs are trending in the right direction after their 28-13 upset win over Texas A&M on Saturday. Maybe most importantly the passing game — which has been so spotty this season — was finally a positive: Fitzgerald completed 14 of 22 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns.

For the first time against a Southeastern Conference opponent, Moorhead saw a good glimpse of what he wants his program to become.


"I think we're seeing increased execution and the kids trust in the process and believing the things that we tell them are necessary for us to be successful," Moorhead said. "I think that's positive in two regards: One, for the immediacy of this season and what we have to do moving forward and, two, understanding what we're doing for the long term here."

Mississippi State (5-3, 2-3 SEC) will take a break from conference play this weekend when it hosts Louisiana Tech (6-2) on Saturday. The Bulldogs then close the regular season with three straight conference games against No. 1 Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Fitzgerald's improvement through the air has given the Bulldogs a boost of confidence.

The three-year starter was terrific against Texas A&M, connecting on several crucial third-down opportunities to keep drives alive. It was a stark contrast from the previous week, when he had arguably the worst game of his career during a four-interception outing in a loss to LSU.

Moorhead said Fitzgerald has done a good job of ignoring rampant criticism that's come on social media during his up-and-down season. The quarterback was named the SEC's offensive player of the week for his performance against the Aggies, which Moorhead called "excellent validation for him."

Fitzgerald said that it's hard to completely ignore the barbs on social media, but he's also had plenty of support.

"I got plenty of messages from friends saying 'We support you, we love you, we have your back, keep doing you,'" Fitzgerald said. "I have family, friends and teammates who believe in me. It felt good to go out there and have a good game."

Moorhead said his growth as a coach was also important during the Texas A&M game. He blamed himself for trying to find the perfect game plan earlier in the season instead of going with a simple approach that plays to his team's strengths.

"I just went back to game planning it, calling it aggressively and doing what we do well: Dictating the tempo of the game rather than reacting to the tempo of the game," Moorhead said.

The switch worked almost immediately against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs drove down the field for a touchdown on their first offensive opportunity and Fitzgerald completed 6 of 7 passes.

After the touchdown, Moorhead showed more emotion than at maybe any point this season, embracing Fitzgerald on the sideline and yelling encouragement in his face.

"That was organic, that wasn't fake and that wasn't manufactured," Moorhead said. "I was truly that fired up."

Moorhead said his personality with the Bulldogs is evolving, just like the offense.

"You want attitude to reflect leadership," Moorhead said. "You don't want the players to see the head coach out of control, but at the same time you want them to see that you are invested in the game as emotionally as they are and I was."


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