So who are the Mississippi State Bulldogs to watch in their showdown with Georgia at Sanford Stadium this weekend on Saturday?
NICK FITZGERALD (QB, #7)
This Richmond Hill, Ga. product certainly rated the top returning quarterback in the SEC entering the 2017 season. Fitzgerald, a 6-5, 230-pound junior, is a tremendous dual-threat performer who passed for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns last season while also using his power and speed to run for 1,375 yards and 16 more touchdowns. He broke the SEC record for 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback with eight and also the average gain per rush by a quarterback with a 7.1 average per carry. Good as the Georgia defense is this season, it will have its hands full stopping this guy come Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.
DONALD GRAY (WR, #6)
This is Fitzgerald’s primary target as the 5-10, 200-pound senior is an explosive wideout who can both stretch the field on the deep ball and also go over the middle with the 10, 15-yard receptions. The UGA secondary has to be on high alert Saturday night, so as not to allow the Fitzgerald-Gray combination inflict major damage.
AERIS WILLIAMS (RB, #22)
When Nick Fitzgerald isn’t keeping the football, this guy will be getting it. The 6-1,217-pound junior is a rugged inside runner who averages more than 7 yards per carry. The Georgia defense can’t afford to let Williams pound them up the middle because, if that happens, it will make Fitzgerald – who averages more than 8 yards per tote – even more dangerous on the outside option runs.
JEFFERY SIMMONS (NT, #94)
Though only a sophomore, the 6-4, 301-pound Simmons is the anchor of the Bulldogs’ defensive front. Named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2016, Simmons boasts both quickness and power to disrupt opposing offenses; thus, the challenge awaiting the Georgia O-line Saturday in this huge SEC opener.
BRANDON BRYANT (SAF, # 1)
This hard-hitting MSU safety, a 6-0, 215-pound junior, is the fastest player on the Mississippi State team with a blazing time of 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In case you didn’t realize it, that’s right in the timed speed of legendary SEC running backs Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson. Bryant plays the run and pass with equal efficiency and must be accounted for by the Georgia offense Saturday night.
MARK MCLAURIN (SAF, #41)
McLaurin, at 6-2, 215 and also a junior, teams with Bryant to form one of the top safety tandems in the SEC. Like Bryant, he possesses good speed in pass coverage and can also lay the wood when confronting opposing ball carriers. Indeed, the talented Bulldog secondary, led by Bryant and McLaurin, will certainly be a challenge for the UGA passing game Saturday evening.
DAN MULLEN (HEAD COACH)
Mullen, who assumed the Mississippi State coaching reins in 2008, has cemented the Bulldogs as one of the best in the SEC West as MSU ranks second in victories since 2014 (25) in college football’s toughest division, which has produced a national title game finalist in 10 out of the last 11 years. He enters the 2017 campaign as the SEC’s second-longest tenured current head coach behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban (11th year). Of course, Mullen has State off to a 3-0 start this season with his team coming off a 37-7 pasting of then 12th-ranked LSU this past weekend. Mullen always produces top dualthreat quarterbacks (former MSU great Dak Prescott now guiding the Dallas Cowboys) and he has another gem this season in Nick Fitzgerald. It will be a tough challenge for Georgia Saturday night, facing a coach the caliber of Mullen and maybe the SEC’s top QB in Fitzgerald.
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