Mississippi State’s season played by a pretty simple to follow trend. Against top 30 defenses, the Bulldogs simply were unable to muster enough offense to give themselves a chance to win, despite always getting a great showing from their elite defense. That trend held up in the Outback Bowl, as Iowa’s seventh ranked defense turned three MSU turnovers into 20 points in a 27-22 win that finished the Bulldogs’ season at 8-5, far below what most of the country predicted back in August. Nick Fitzgerald struggled throughout the contest, finishing 14-32 with one touchdown, a fumble lost, and two interceptions. MSU’s defense forced two turnovers of their own which resulted in 13 points, but at the end of the day, it could not overcome the offensive woes that Joe Moorhead’s gameplan endured.
1st play of the Game. There is Jeffery Simmons ? pic.twitter.com/nbx1sVbEBB
— JKuhn (@h8rproof82) January 1, 2019
In his final game as a Bulldog, Jeffery Simmons showed again why he is one of the nation’s top players and will likely hear his name called very early in the upcoming NFL Draft. Simmons spearhead a defensive effort that held Iowa to under 200 yards, forced two turnovers, and rang up three sacks and seven tackles for loss. He was the difference maker all season, and that was never more evident that today. Simply put, you can make an argument that he is the greatest defensive lineman to ever wear the maroon and white.
Jake Gervase. Big time play pic.twitter.com/IM2I7eaGKV
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) January 1, 2019
It’s not fair to put a game like this on one play, but this sequence right here was really the nail in the MSU coffin. Fitzgerald fires a perfect pass to Stephen Guidry, but he can’t come up with it and the bobble lands in the hands of Iowa linebacker Jake Gervase, who took it out to the Hawkeye 30 yard line. Iowa would put a field goal on the board after this turnover, making this a 10 point swing and ultimately the difference in this contest. Guidry hangs on and the Bulldogs leads 29-24, as it is, the Bulldogs never got back into it.
WHAT IS NICK FITZGERALD’S LEGACY?
Count the missed tackles. Nick Fitzgerald's 33-yard TD gives Mississippi State the lead.
— On Iowa (@GazetteOnIowa) January 1, 2019
I feel confident in saying that Nick Fitzgerald is one of the most polarizing players in Mississippi State history. There are those who appreciate his legacy as the SEC’s greatest rushing quarterback, and there are those happy he has thrown his final pass in maroon and white. I asked Fitzgerald about how he viewed his legacy all the way back at SEC Media Days, and his answer was that he would like to be remembered as a guy who did a lot without a lot of recruiting hype. Fitzgerald has some big wins, and he did the best he could to fill the gigantic hole left by Dak Prescott. I will be interested to see once the sting of this loss subsides, how Fitzgerald is received in Starkville in the years to come.
— John Garcia, Jr. (@JohnGarcia_Jr) December 29, 2018
Next thing on the agenda for Joe Moorhead and staff is putting the finishing touches on the 2019 recruiting class, most importantly holding on to the two of the most highly touted members of the class, four star defensive linemen Nathan Pickering and Charles Moore. MSU lost one commitment on the first National Signing Day in December, cornerback Gregory Brooks, and its widely rumored another defensive back target, DJ James of Spanish Fort, AL could leave the class as well. State needs to either hold on to what it has or fill in with some other prospects to keep this class around the top 20 ranking it currently holds. After that it’s on to spring ball, where the biggest question of MSU’s 2019 season will be answered.
ALL EYES ON KEYTAON THOMPSON
Keytaon Thompson has been the subject of much debate this season, as many wondered why he was unable to wrest the starting job from Nick Fitzgerald in the mid-season, when Fitzgerald was struggling mightily. That was followed by Mississippi State’s pursuit of Clemson grad transfer Kelly Bryant, which was ultimately unsuccessful. The question is being asked, does Joe Moorhead believe Thompson is the man to lead this offense into 2019 and beyond? We’ll see if the Bulldogs go after another potential transfer, be it of the graduate variety or otherwise, but this spring will be key (no pun intended) for Thompson. He has to grab the reigns of this team and show he can give the Bulldogs what they lacked this season, a consistent threat in the passing game. It is unlikely Thompson will be as good on the ground as Fitzgerald was the past three seasons, so he has to make up the difference with his arm.
We’ll talk a lot more about what happened today in Tampa on tomorrow’s Thunder & Lightning Podcast, then it’s a travel day for me, so I’ll be off SportsTalk Mississippi until Thursday. Hope you guys have a great New Year’s Day beyond this game, and I’ll be back with you later this week to discuss Bulldog sports.
Photo courtesy of Mississippi State athletics