No. 16 MSU offense grinding up foes

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, September 12, 2018

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State’s new coach Joe Moorhead had a vision for what he wanted his offense to look like this season.

So far, it hasn’t gone exactly as planned.

The end results have been fine: Mississippi State earned an impressive 31-10 road win over Kansas State on Saturday, one week after rolling to a 63-6 victory against Stephen F. Austin in the season opener.

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But Moorhead acknowledged on Monday that the 16th-ranked Bulldogs have been a little more run-heavy than he anticipated. Mississippi State is completing just 42.6 percent of its passes through two games, a number that’s well short of the 65 percent that Moorhead set as a goal before the season.

It might not be ideal, but it’s working.

“What I don’t want to do is get caught up in the number, that it needs to be 65 at the expense of our productivity and putting points on the board,” Moorhead said. “Ultimately, when you’re looking at statistics, I think No. 1 is the wins.”

Mississippi State’s offensive production has been very similar to Moorhead’s predecessor Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs are brutally efficient running the ball, averaging nearly eight yards per carry. They lead the Southeastern Conference in rushing, with 302 yards per game.

Sophomore Kylin Hill ran for a career-high 211 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas State, averaging more than 12 yards per carry. Nick Fitzgerald added 159 yards on the ground in his first game since dislocating his ankle in last year’s Egg Bowl, and is now second among quarterbacks in SEC history with 2,645 career yards rushing.

Fitzgerald wasn’t as good throwing the ball. He completed 11 of 27 passes for 154 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Moorhead expects improvement when the Bulldogs (2-0) host Louisiana-Lafayette (1-0) on Saturday.

“It’s a little bit of Nick shaking the rust off, where he almost hasn’t played in a game live for an entire year in a new system,” Moorhead said. “All those things kind of combine together. I think week by week we’ll see a gradual improvement.”

Mississippi State’s offense would also benefit from some continuity. Fitzgerald was suspended for the season opener because of a violation of team policy while Aeris Williams — who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season — was benched against Kansas State.

“Playing time on Saturday is dictated by your performance during the week,” Moorhead said. “Based on this week’s body of work, we felt it was Kylin Hill and Nick Gibson who did the best job and deserved the repetitions on the field.”

Moorhead said he expects Williams to respond and have a good week while preparing for Louisiana-Lafayette. It was much like last week, when the coach predicted Fitzgerald would bounce back quickly after his suspension.

“This is just the accountability level we have on the team,” Moorhead said. “We want to talk about the word ‘culture’ — not just throw it out there as a buzzword — but actually make sure that we’re adhering to what we believe is best for the team from a little things standpoint.”