STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) - In front of 58,963 fans at Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State (5-2, 2-2 SEC) put on one of its best performances of the year to beat Kentucky (5-2, 2-2) by a final score of 45-7 on Saturday.
After the Bulldog defense got a stop on the first drive of the game, MSU's offense followed up by driving 78 yards in 12 plays to go up 7-0, a lead MSU would never relinquish.
Junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was the star of the game for MSU, completing 18-of-26 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown, while also rushing 12 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Fitzgerald's leading receiver was senior wideout Donald Gray, who caught six passes for 51 yards.
Aeris Williams had snother soliid day on the ground with 71 rushing yards on 20 carries. Bulldog backup signal caller Keytaon Thompson added 65 yards on just four carries, including touchdown jaunts of nine and 40 yards.
The Bulldogs had a particularly strong defensive performance under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, breaking up five passes in the first half alone and totaling three sacks and seven tackles for loss over the course of the game. With the best performance of his MSU career, junior defensive end Montez Sweat racked up seven tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, while also being credited with a quarterback hurry.
Junior safety Mark McLaurin was also a standout performer for State, accruing a team-leading 11 tackles, two pass break-ups and a forced fumble. Linebacker Gerri Green got in on the fun as well, picking off a second-half Wildcat pass and returning it 84 yards for a score.
The Bulldogs hit the road next Saturday, Oct. 28, travelling to meet SEC Western Division foe Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1 SEC) in College Station, Texas. The game will kickoff at 6:15 p.m. CT and be televised nationally by ESPN.
MSU HEAD COACH DAN MULLEN QUOTES
"I am really pleased at how our guys came out there. I thought we had a really good week at practice. I challenged them to come out there and play their best game with some great intensity for four quarters and come out there and play hard. I thought we came out pretty solid in the first half, but I really challenged them to take it to another level in the second half, and I think they did that. Our guys really cranked it up at half time and did the things they needed to do to win a game. They put together a huge drive to start the second half, manage the game and they did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. That was an excellent team we just played in Kentucky. You watch them on film. The plays they have, the scheme what they have. They have really good players, and I know Mark does a good job. We talk about the home-field advantage and our fans really gave us a home field advantage. I thought it was a great atmosphere and that is a big factor. Obviously, being able to play home in the SEC gives us a big edge, and I think that really helped today."
On the challenge on the defensive backs …
"There were some times they took some shots and it was one on one and 50-50 balls. We won the 50-50 balls today and that is a big deal in a game. You are going to look back on it, both sides. I think offensively we won 50-50 balls today, and I think that is a huge deal in the course of a game. Willie Gay played right before half time. On the third-and-one they took a shot down the field. That really changes the game and gives us momentum to go down and score. Also knowing we get the ball back at the start of the second half was a big play."
On the overall team performance and this win…
"I thought it was a really solid day in all three phases against a really good team. We were able to take them out of what makes them feel comfortable and put pressure on them. Getting the lead in the first part, you have two teams that like to run the ball, run play action and control the pace of the game. I think that first drive helped us to get up early and helped us be the pace setters of the game on our side."
On how he think Nick played today…
"I thought he did a really good job. He made some great plays. I think he missed a couple. I told him it was one of those six-to-12 inch days. He had great reads, great checks, got us into the right plays. He managed the game. On a couple of throws we were about six to 12 inches off. In fact, you could take that ball and move it about six to 12 inches in a different direction and he probably would've have a couple more touchdown passes. I think that is the consistency and performance that he continues to improve on, but I was pleased with his decision and play making all day. I think with a lot of players, just managing the game and getting us into the right plays and the right checks, knowing how to use the clock and how to manage the game against the defense. When to take a shot down the field, when to check it down, those are things that goes unnoticed and that he doesn't get credit for that I think I really see him improving in."