NCAA News Story - No. 14 Mississippi St breezes through season's first 3 weeks

 
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No. 14 Mississippi St breezes through season's first 3 weeks

(AP Photo/David Stephenson, File)

By DAVID BRANDT

AP Sports Writer

Mississippi State has been so good through the season's first three games that there is not much reason for coach Joe Moorhead to complain.

If anything, the results have been too easy.

Now No. 14 Mississippi State (3-0, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) faces its toughest challenge of the year when it travels to face Kentucky (3-0, 1-0) on Saturday. The Wildcats already have beaten Florida - snapping a 31-game losing streak to the Gators - and might have their best team under sixth-year coach Mark Stoops.

In other words, Mississippi State could finally face some on-field adversity. Moorhead said he believes the Bulldogs will be ready.

"We just have to prepare ourselves for the situation," Moorhead said. "We'd love for every game to go according to plan and win by a significant margin, but I just don't think that's the reality of it."

So far, Mississippi State has cruised to three wins by a combined score of 150-26. The closest was a 31-10 road victory over Kansas State on Sept. 8.

Senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has played like a Heisman Trophy candidate, putting up big numbers in his first two games since being suspended for the season opener against Stephen F. Austin.

In last week's 56-10 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, Fitzgerald completed 14 of 21 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns while running for 107 yards and four touchdowns.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Fitzgerald has been a bruising runner since he took over as Mississippi State's starter in 2016. He is fully recovered from a dislocated right ankle suffered in last year's regular-season finale, and is again gaining big chunks of yards with his long strides and physical play.

Moorhead said Fitzgerald did a good job of knowing when to run or throw against the Ragin' Cajuns.

"He's going to continue to get better and better every week," Moorhead said. "There's a fine line, but I think he has a great knack and feel and awareness for when the pocket is collapsing. He's exhausted his progressions, and there is no longer an option to throw the ball."

Fitzgerald has combined with backs Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill to form one of the nation's top running games. Mississippi State is averaging 311.7 yards rushing per game, which is tops in the SEC and ranks fifth in the country.

The Bulldogs have dominated the series in recent years, winning eight of the last nine meetings. But the Wildcats won the last game in Lexington in 2016, beating the Bulldogs 40-38.

Stoops said there is no secret to the Bulldogs' success on offense: They are just good.

"You put together a physical offense line, a dynamic back and a big beast at quarterback," Stoops said. "That's a lot of good things, and their tight ends. They're big, they're strong and they're explosive. They just put a lot of pressure on you."

Mississippi State's defense is giving up just 8.7 points per game, which ranks second in the SEC and sixth nationally. The Bulldogs have 33 tackles for a loss, which is tops in the league and third nationally.

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Updated September 18, 2018

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