Whew! What a game, right? Mississippi State uses 349 rushing yards to overpower #8 Auburn, getting 195 rushing yards and 2 TDs from senior signal caller Nick Fitzgerald. Coming into the game, Fitzgerald was under as much criticism as any player in college football. From social media arguments and water cooler debates to all-out rants by fans and Bulldog “supporters”, Fitzgerald and his performance, or lack thereof, was the topic of the week in Starkville and beyond. He has been under the microscope in every sense of the phrase since the loss against Florida. He hasn’t eliminated all need for concern by any means, but the armchair quarterbacks and twitter coaches calling for his starting job were all but proven wrong Saturday night. 264 yards of total offense, 2 touchdowns, and a career conference record is only the tip of the iceberg of what Fitzgerald showed Saturday night. He showed heart, grit, and especially a toughness that some would have indicated was lacking in the previous 4 starts for number 7. Compliment that with the cerebral play that reflected in his clock management and decision making, and there’s only one conclusion to draw from the Bulldog’s 23-9 victory: Nicholas Fitzgerald is the starting quarterback for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Period. Although his passing left little to be desired Saturday, it’s not like he had 35 incompletions. We aren’t running the Fun N’ Gun offense (at least, not anymore). He had plenty in the aerial attack for what MSU wanted to do this weekend.  Is Nick capable of doing more with his arm? Absolutely. Does he need to improve? Of course. Will he start lighting up the board with passing stats soon? Anybody’s guess. Does he need to do that in this offense? Right now, he certainly doesn’t. We’re a rushing team. Fitz needs to pass enough to keep the rushing attack effective. And that rushing attack was more than effective against a team that led the mighty Southeastern Conference in rushing yards allowed. Like I’ve stated in previous articles, and like coach Moorhead proved last night, we can scheme an offense that plays to our players’ strengths, and we can win games running that kind of offense. Florida did it to us in our last game. Sometimes, you have to run the offense you’re capable of running instead of running the offense you want to run. And that’s okay, as long as the coaching staff is willing to put their preparation and brain power into that more favorable offense, abandoning the more ideal but less realistic scheme. Against Auburn, we saw Fitzgerald signal for motion on almost every single snap. That allowed for coverages and matchups amongst the Auburn defense to be revealed. From there, depending on Auburn’s alignment, Fitz is able to survey the gridiron and determine if either side of the field presents a favorable numbers matchup for the powerful and swift Mississippi State runners. Misdirection and great post-snap reads boosted the offense as well. Making the right read on option-type plays, which MSU ran often, is an underrated part of quarterback play at which Nick Fitzgerald excels. The utter domination of time of possession is a credit to Joe Moorhead’s clock management and the patience of Fitzgerald when calling for snaps, not to mention the running proficiency of Kylin Hill and Fitzgerald keeping the ball with the offense. Keeping the ball away from the opposing team is one heck of a way to make sure they can’t score. Amongst the criticisms of Fitzgerald in recent days was the lack of usual ferocity when carrying the ball. What used to be a Cam Newton type of running style has started to look more timid and careful. I agree that Fitz has been cautious with his carries ever since breaking his leg last season. He even looked nervous at the beginning of the Auburn game. But as the game wore on, and it got down to crunch time, and the pressure was on a little bit—Nick Fitzgerald proved he’s as tough as they come. His last quarter of rushes looked fearless. I personally would rather see all of Nick’s bones remain in one piece and attached to one another than him picking up 1-2 more yards on his medium and long runs. I assume most folks agree. If you can’t tell, I’m pretty high on Fitzgerald, even when most people aren’t. That might seem unwise to some, but I’ve always believed that you should supports your players, no matter how they perform. They may not do as well as we expect, but nobody works harder for the success of our athletic programs than the players that take the field during every practice and every game. I also have not let the ecstasy left over from the exit of one of the greatest players in college football history cast shadows on the current trigger man in Starkville. Nick isn’t Dak Prescott, but how many players are? He’s far from a perfect quarterback. He could improve in several areas. But Nick is one heck of a football player, and, flawed as he is, I’m proud to have him on my football team. I think we all should be.

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