Junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is one of eight players with ties to the state of Georgia on the Mississippi State football team's roster. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
September 19, 2017 10:02:26 AM
STARKVILLE -- For a team whose roster contains a supermajority of in-state talent, Mississippi State's pipeline to Georgia is strong.
MSU (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) has two assistant coaches -- defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and tight ends coach D.J. Looney -- and eight players with connections to Georgia. MSU plays the in-state power Georgia Bulldogs (3-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in Sanford Stadium (ESPN).
Of the seven Georgian players making the trip for MSU, defensive end Montez Sweat and cornerback Tolando Cleveland should see significant snaps, but none will garner more attention than quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. The Richmond Hill native and his coach expect no changes in his return.
"It's just another game. It's just an opponent we'll have to beat," Fitzgerald said. "I'll have more friends and family there, haven't played in front of some of those people since high school, but it's another opponent we have to beat."
MSU head coach Dan Mullen added, "Hopefully he's OK to handle it. I'll see if he's weird or has some strange looks. He better get his emotions in check because we're playing a very athletic, very talented defense. Watching the film will straighten out those emotions pretty quickly."
Grantham's Georgia ties come from his four years as the defensive coordinator there, from 2010-2013. Looney's are more recent, as MSU hired him this winter away from Georgia, where he was an offensive graduate assistant. Safety Johnathan Abram is another: he started his college career at Georgia before coming to MSU by way of Jones County Junior College.
Mullen downplayed the advantage of having Looney and Abram in the program for extra information on Georgia, saying the only significant benefit may be knowing personnel, "better than normal weeks."
The only thing the local ties guarantees is a contingent of MSU fans in the stadium. Fitzgerald will have a special one: his uncle, Charles Pledger, who played cornerback for Georgia from 1990-93.
"He's going to be wearing maroon," Fitzgerald said. "He told me plenty of times, 'I'll be there, it'll be the first time I've been in Athens not wearing black and red.' If you can find him, you'll see him in a Mississippi State t-shirt somewhere."
Numbers don't interest Mullen yet
The sample size is small, but the numbers are kind for MSU three games in. MSU leads the SEC in scoring offense (47.7 points per game) and rushing offense (297.67 yards per game) while ranking second in scoring defense (9.3 points allowed per game) and third in offensive plays of 10 yards or more (50).
Mullen needs to see more of the same to be pleased.
"I'll feel great about if we had played 12 games already. After three, we'll see," Mullen said. "Statistics are hard to measure after three games in a season because there's a whole lot of variables of who plays who early in the season. Once we play 12 that will balance out."
There is nothing new on the status of defensive lineman Cory Thomas: Mullen expects him out for the next two weeks with a foot injury. Wide receiver Gabe Myles' foot injury is less severe; Mullen labeled him questionable for this week.
Wide receiver Malik Dear is more likely to play. Mullen said he was medically cleared by the training staff last week, meaning the only thing for the coaching staff is, "a question of at what percentage he is."
Trio earn conference honors
Three Bulldogs were honored as SEC Players of the Week after the blowout victory over LSU: Fitzgerald was the Offensive Player of the Week, left guard Daryl Williams was the Offensive Lineman of the Week and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons was the Defensive Lineman of the Week.
Fitzgerald amassed 260 yards of offense and four touchdowns, ranking him third in the nation in touchdowns behind UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. Williams was a pivotal part of the offensive line that paced the way for MSU to run for 285 yards, while Simmons stuffed the LSU run game with seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.
MSU slated for another night game
For the third consecutive week, MSU will play at night on ESPN.
After a 6 p.m. kickoffs against LSU and Georgia, the SEC announced Monday that MSU's trip to Auburn the following week will be on ESPN at 5 p.m. It will be MSU's final game before the bye week and two consecutive home games against BYU and Kentucky.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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