Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald watches as teammate Aeris Williams blocks for him Saturday in the then-No. 21 Mississippi State football team’s 34-23 victory against Massachusetts. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
November 7, 2017 2:43:44 PM
STARKVILLE -- Dan Mullen may not be Mississippi State's winningest football coach (yet), but his list of accomplishments never seen by the school before his arrival cements his place in MSU lore: the seven (soon-to-be eight) consecutive bowl games, five bowl games and 10 weeks ranked as a top 10 team, for instance.
Not on that list: beating Alabama.
No. 18 MSU (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference, No. 16 College Football Playoff) will get its next shot 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at Davis Wade Stadium against the No. 1 Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC, No. 2 CFP). Even against the titan of late that has been the Alabama program, Mullen doesn't see this ceiling to bust through differently from any others he's already broken.
"Same way we've done it before: Mississippi State's never been going to a lot of bowl games, never been No. 1 in the country, never had a lot of winning records. It's just what the program's done, it's what we've built here," Mullen said. "That's what the whole thing is based on -- it's the same thing we've done in building every other aspect of this program."
Along those lines, none of them are deterred by the step back that was last year's meeting. After testing Alabama in 2011 and 2013 games in Starkville that were 24-7 and 20-7 losses, respectively, MSU lost 51-3 last year.
MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald put it plainly: "The difference in a year is huge."
Green expected back
Mullen said outside linebacker Gerri Green is expected to be back after a leg injury suffered against UMass. It appeared Green's leg was injured as UMass offensive linemen Ray Ishman-Thomas Sr. grabbed it and twisted it in the pile; Ishman-Thomas also had a fumbled ball in his hands at the time, so it's uncertain if he was twisting Green's leg intentionally or trying to maintain possession of the ball.
The status of other injured players, including wide receivers Donald Gray and Gabe Myles, won't be determined until later in the week, Mullen said. Wide receiver Keith Mixon is expected to play.
Underclassmen producing on perimeter
Preseason projections didn't call for this much youth as pass catchers.
If the season worked out the way it was supposed to, MSU was going to lean on senior wide receivers Gray and Myles and look to the next generation to fill out the corps. With Gray and Myles both injured, that luxury went out the window.
MSU has turned to underclassmen for 51.1 percent of its receiving yards with four of them at more than 100 yards on the season: tight end Farrod Green (150) alongside wide receivers Mixon (255), Deddrick Thomas (165) and Jamal Couch (126).
"They're coming along: obviously they're being forced into situations you wouldn't expect them to be forced into right now," Mullen said. "When you look at the depth, I think we had four or five scholarship receivers play in the game on Saturday; not a lot, especially for us. Guys have to step up, go make plays and they're getting a lot more reps, good experience and good growth.
"Obviously you'd like to have it the other way where you can put them in certain situations and control their growth, but we don't have that option right now. For the long term for their future, it's going to be pretty good."
Kickoff time TBD
For the second consecutive week, MSU's kickoff time for will be decided five days later than usual.
MSU's final road game of the season against Arkansas will either be at 11 a.m. on CBS or at 6 p.m. on either ESPN or ESPN2. The Texas A&M at Ole Miss game will take the slot not occupied by MSU's game.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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