Mississippi State will do everything in its power to catch lightning in a bottle and go toe-to-toe with top-ranked Alabama on Saturday, hopefully summoning some of the success found in last season’s loss to the Crimson Tide, according to veteran quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns during a 31-24 setback, playing well enough at the line of scrimmage to own a 7-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Crimson Tide’s two-touchdown turnaround over the final 9:49 nullified an upset bid.
Jalen Hurts’ 26-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith with 25 seconds left capped a six-play, 68-yard drive in the final minute to keep Alabama’s unbeaten record intact.
While Fitzgerald knows this year’s Alabama team is a different monster entirely for his 16th-ranked Bulldogs, he’s confident Mississippi State can execute to the level necessary to stay competitive in Tuscaloosa as a 25.5-point underdog.
Here’s what Fitzgerald said this week about Saturday’s showdown against the Crimson Tide:
On playing Alabama close last season: “You just take that a motivation and a little bit of extra confidence going in how we played last year, knowing that we can do that again.”
On Tua Tagovailoa’s record-setting season: “A lot of hype, in the preseason, and he really lived up to it. Extremely talented passer. For a young guy, very calm in the pocket. He’s delivering the ball where he needs to, very well.”
On the Crimson Tide’s defense: “It’s my job to go out there and execute what their job is, which is game planning. All together, all around, they’re the best defense we’re going to face this year. They’re fast, they’re gap sound, and they don’t do a lot of stuff, but they know exactly how to line up to everything you’re going to give them. They’re going to run every single play that you’ve run all season, they’re going to walk through it at least once.”
Mississippi State’s defenses has yielded a college football-low nine touchdowns this season and leads the Power 5 in scoring defense (12.3 PPG). The combination of Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons up front has been a tough assignment for opposing offenses as the pass-rush pair has combined for 19.5 tackles for losses.
Nick Saban is well aware of Mississippi State’s strength at the line of scrimmage and the veteran leadership of Fitzgerald offensively.
“We’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Nick Fitzgerald,” Saban said during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “He played really well against us last year and is a dual-threat quarterback who has the capability of running, whether it’s a quarterback run or pulling the ball down or pulling it on a zone option play or whatever. The guy is as effective as anybody in the country. He’s got a great arm and he’s a very effective passer when he needs to be. This guy’s got to be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.”