October 13, 2017
In preparation for Saturday’s BYU football game at Mississippi State, Mississippi State beat writer Brett Hudson from The Commercial Dispatch in Columbus, Miss., exchanged sets of five questions with the Daily Herald.
Here’s what Hudson had to say about the upcoming contest:
1. Mississippi State started with three dominating wins but have struggled in two recent losses. How much of that turnaround was the caliber of opponent and how much was the Bulldogs not playing well?
HUDSON: I think it was based almost entirely on opponent. It’s possible we’ve reached this conclusion already, but I think time will tell beyond all doubt that Alabama, Georgia and Auburn are the elite class of the SEC that no one else in the conference is truly close to challenging with any consistency. The bad luck for MSU is that it played two of those three teams in back-to-back weeks with both games on the road. MSU certainly has its problems – downfield passing being the biggest – but I don’t think that’s why the Georgia and Auburn games got as ugly as they did.
2. BYU fans remember seeing Nick Fitzgerald make some great plays last year in Provo. How much has the senior quarterback progressed this season?
HUDSON: MSU definitely needed some progression from Fitzgerald after last season, in which MSU ended up as one of the worst in the SEC in passing efficiency. He has shown a little more willingness to throw into tight windows, but he hasn’t really had the opportunity to show much of another aspect of that next step: picking apart a defense in his progression. MSU ran the ball at will in its first three games and didn’t get help from its wide receivers against Georgia and Auburn, so Fitzgerald hasn’t been presented with the task of consistently hurting defenses on a play’s second and third options. I think MSU fans hope to see that in the BYU and Kentucky games before MSU takes to the road for a huge conference game against Texas A&M.
3. What do you see as being the biggest strength and biggest weakness of this Mississippi State defense?
HUDSON: Linebacker is definitely the strength of this defense, particularly when they bring in reserve defensive linemen and you can count pass-rush specialist Montez Sweat as an outside linebacker. Sweat mans the edge whether he’s a linebacker or a defensive end and the linebacker on the other side, Gerri Green, has shown flashes of dominance at times this season. Dez Harris in the middle has been outstanding and Leo Lewis has his moments. Willie Gay and Traver Jung provide depth on the inside and outside, respectively.
4. LSU throttled the Cougars and Mississippi State throttled LSU. Are the Bulldog faithful expecting this game to be pretty lopsided?
HUDSON: Yes. Case in point: I do a weekly mailbag answering reader questions and one of the questions was, “Is there anything about BYU that could give State a scare?” Todd Grantham defenses feast on third-and-long situations, which everything suggests MSU can force BYU into plenty of them. I am kind of surprised that the public money took the Vegas line from somewhere in the 20 1/2 range closer to as high as 24 in some books, but a margin in that range sounds about right.
5. A fun question to wrap up: Do you ever get tired of hearing cowbells?
HUDSON: Very, very much yes. You eventually get used to it as part of the crowd noise during the game, but when it comes to big bursts of it like when the team comes out of the tunnel or other pregame things, it’s borderline unbearable. My advice for BYU fans making the trip is make it through the first five minutes of the game and you’ll be OK: they have rules as to when the bells can be rung during play, giving you the sweet relief of regular crowd noise.
BONUS INFO FROM HUDSON: Restaurant recommendations in Starkville, for fans that are coming. For fans that are making their first trip to the Southeast and need your traditional plate of Southern BBQ, Little Dooey’s is the place. If you’ve been to the Southeast before and want something a little different than the classic plate, Two Brothers has the best meat in town, for my money. (Try the pork rind nachos – I was skeptical, too, but seriously, do it.) If you’re not in the market for BBQ: Bulldog Burger Co., The Veranda and Oby’s.
Be sure to follow Hudson’s work on line at www.cdispatch.com/sports, on Twitter at @Brett_Hudson and on Instagram at Brett__Hudson.