Scouting Mississippi State: Cougars need to focus on stopping Fitzgerald

October 13, 2017 GMT

Location: Starkville, Miss.

Facilities: Davis Wade Stadium (61,945 capacity)

Coach: Dan Mullen (9th season, 64-44 overall)

2016 Record: 6-7, 3-5 MWC West)

2017 Ranking: None

Series: BYU leads the overall series 2-1. BYU won last year 28-21 in overtime at LaVell Edwards Stadium

What’s the big deal? BYU has had success against Mississippi State. The Cougars are 2-1 in the all-time series and even own a win against the Bulldogs in Starkville (2001). However, this isn’t a typical season for BYU, which is mired in a five-game losing streak. Mississippi State started out well, opening up 3-0 and drilling LSU 37-7 in its SEC opener. But since then the Bulldogs have been outscored 31-3 (No. 11 Georgia) and 49-10 (No. 13 Auburn). BYU will start Tanner Mangum at quarterback but may also give former redshirt freshman Joe Critchlow a look. It will help the defense to get middle linebacker and team captain Butch Pau’u back on the field after he missed last week due to injury. With all of BYU’s offensive struggles, it seems unlikely the Cougars could get well in SEC Country. The cowbell mojo is strong in Starkville.

Numbers to ponder

BYU has lost five consecutive games for the first time since 1970. … A loss to Mississippi State would drop the Cougars to 1-6, its worst start since a 1-7 beginning in 1968. … Tanner Mangum is 67 of 123 (54.5 percent) for 630 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions. … BYU quarterbacks have combined to throw 12 interceptions and just four touchdowns in six games.

He said it

“I think one of the things you have to look at is they’ve had some self-inflicted errors. They’ve struggled in some games, but take away those self-inflicted errors and they don’t struggle. So what if they show up here and they don’t have any self-inflicted errors?” — Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen in the Starkville Daily News.

What you need to know about the Bulldogs

Everything Mississippi State does on offense revolves around dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. He’s second on the team in rushing (343 yards) and has scored a team-high five touchdowns on the ground. He hasn’t been as effective passing the ball, where he’s completing 53 percent of his passes for 783 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Last year, BYU did a pretty good job against Fitzgerald, holding him to 41 rushing yards — though he did score two touchdowns — and to 17 of 36 passing for 214 yards and two interceptions.

Running back Aeris Williams (409 yards, 5.5 yards per carry) also figures to get a lot of work against the Cougars as well.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are solid and are ranked No. 17 in the country (306.6 yards allowed per game). Against the run, Mississippi State is allowing 150 yards per game and 3.77 yards per carry. For BYU to have any hope it will have to forge a semblance of a run game. Last week, the Cougars managed just 65 rushing yards against Boise State.

Mullen’s Final Word

“It’ll be a tough game. We played them last year and it was a double-overtime battle, so we know how physical of a team they are.”