Mississippi State football: What 2019 team can learn from 2018

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(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Here is a brief look at the high points and low points for the 2018 Mississippi State football team, along with a look ahead to 2019 season.

Losing a coach like Dan Mullen should put a damper on a team’s prospects heading into the following season, but there was nothing but optimism in Starkville after Mississippi State football hired Penn State Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead.

Moorhead, who rejuvenated a Penn State offense that was among the best in the country during his tenure in Happy Valley, quickly won the Mississippi State football fanbase over by pouring gas on already high expectations.

The Bulldogs were expected by some to be a dark horse contender in the SEC, but some lingering questions did remain.

  • How would QB Nick Fitzgerald recover from a gruesome ankle injury suffered in the 2017 Egg Bowl?
    How would the run-heavy Fitzgerald fit into Moorhead’s scheme, which placed more emphasis on the deep ball?
    Could a defensive front-loaded with future NFL talent like Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat carry Mississippi State in critical moments throughout the year?

Only a few things needed to fall in line for Mississippi State to have a special season. Instead, the Bulldogs lived with mixed results for most of 2018.

Fitzgerald did make a full return but struggled to find his rhythm in the offense. Moorhead eventually simplified the in midseason and the Bulldogs played well down the stretch but the offense failed to show in State’s biggest games.

The defense played its part throughout the season and looked dominant in stretches.

I hate to make it sound so simple, but when the Bulldogs won, they looked good. When the Bulldogs lost, they looked not-so-good.

In their eight regular season wins, Mississippi State football outscored their opponents 333-60 (+273) for an average margin of victory of nearly 35 points (MSU 41.6 ppg – Opp. 7.5 ppg).

Notable wins include a road win against 5-7 Kansas State, a physical performance vs 8-5 Auburn in a loser-go-home primetime showdown, a convincing win over 9-4 Texas A&M once both teams were officially out of contention in the SEC race, and reclaiming the Egg Bowl in dominant fashion against a 5-7 Ole Miss team still dealing with ramifications from the Freeze fallout.

For the sake of illustration, let’s eliminate the 27-22 Outback Bowl defeat to Iowa from the equation because bowl games often do not tell the story of a season.

The 8-5 Bulldogs dropped four regular season games by an average margin of 17 points (Opp. 21.0-MSU 4.0).

The defense did its job most weeks but the offense often did not show up in big moments throughout 2018 and put up one touchdown in four regular-season losses:

  • Lost 28-7 at Kentucky
  • Lost 13-6 vs Florida
  • Lost 19-3 at LSU
  • Lost 24-0 at Alabama

Yes, these ended up being four losses to quality opponents, but State had the talent to compete for an SEC title in 2018, so it’s hard to fashion any of these losses into some kind of moral victory.

Overall, the program seems to be continuing in a positive direction with Moorhead at the helm. Mississippi State has recruited well and the Bulldogs should remain in dark horse title contender territory in the near future. With the expected rise of Texas A&M and the LSU/Auburn combo consistently nipping at Bama’s heels in the SEC West, Moorhead will have to continue to recruit at a high level and develop a juggernaut on offense to keep pace in this brutal division.

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