Louisiana at Mississippi State

The Sports Xchange

September 12, 2018 at 5:13 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
TV: SEC Alternate
SERIES: Mississippi State leads 3-1. Mississippi State won the last meeting 31-3 in 1987.
RANKINGS: Mississippi State No. 16

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ragin’ Cajuns

–QB Andre Nunez got his season off to a great start. He was 19-of-22 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-17 win over Grambling in Louisiana’s only outing so far. That is a school single-game record for completion percentage for players with at least 20 attempts. He had two starts last year after transferring from junior college.

–WR Ja’Marcus Bradley was in on six receptions for 70 yards, both game highs. He had two receptions for touchdowns. He had 39 receptions, second on the team, as a sophomore last year.

–LB Jacques Boudreaux led the Cajuns in tackles with four stops. He also had a sack, the first of the junior’s career. He started seven of 12 appearances last year.

–LB Bennie Higgins recorded three tackles and a sack in the opener. A junior, he played in 11 games last season, his first with the Cajuns after a year at Mississippi Delta Junior College.

Bulldogs

–RB Kylin Hill won the starting job over multi-year starter and 1,000-yard back Aeris Williams during training camp. Hill has shined in Moorhead’s offense, rushing for 211 yards and scoring three touchdowns last weekend against Kansas State.

–WR Austin Williams may have the best hands on the team and has already made a couple of compelling grabs as a freshman. Williams caught his first career touchdown against K-State, hauling in a 13-yard catch from Nick Fitzgerald.

–LB Erroll Thompson is in his first year as a full-time starter but has adapted well to the role. Thompson showcased his talents this past weekend making seven solo tackles from sideline-to-sideline along with one tackle for loss, one sack and a diving interception.

–LB Alec Murphy is playing defense for the first time after being moved out of the Bulldogs’ logjam at running back. Murphy has made most of his impact thus far on special teams making a pair of tackles against the Wildcats, including a touchdown-saving stop on kickoff coverage.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald showed no effects from the ankle injury that cost him the last two game of 2017 when he made his belated season debut last week, but coach Joe Moorhead is hoping for more passing efficiency Saturday against Louisiana.

Kickoff for the game to be televised on the SEC alternate network is 7:30 p.m. ET in Starkville’s Davis Wade Stadium.

Fitzgerald, who served a one-game suspension to start this season, showed a bit of rust last week in a 31-10 win at Kansas State. He rushed for 159 yards on 19 carries but hit on just 11 of 27 passes for 154 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.

Keytaon Thompson completed only 13 of 31 passes against Stephen F. Austin in the opener, although those connections went for 364 yards and five touchdowns.

“A lot of things go into completion percentage — protection, the route, the read and the throw,” Moorhead said. “Certainly, I think both Nick and K.T. have made positive steps forward with what we want them to do from the quarterback position, but we do need to be completing passes at a higher percentage.”

Due in part to Mississippi State’s deficiencies through the air, the Bulldogs have rushed 76 times and attempted 61 passes.

“We’re a little bit run-heavy right now, but we’d like to be as close to 50-50 as we can,” Moorhead said.

Idle last week, Louisiana’s 49-17 victory over Grambling marked the head coaching debut of Billy Napier. He spent five seasons at Alabama, including four (2013-16) as the wide receivers coach for Nick Saban. Napier was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State in 2017.

Napier replaced Mark Hudspeth, who is now Mississippi State’s associate head coach/tight ends coach.

With Napier’s time with the Crimson Tide and previous stints at Clemson, he knows what big-boy football looks like.

“When the music is playing and the lights are flashing and you’re walking down the aisle … you want to be ready to compete,” Napier said. “But the work is done way before then, and we gotta do the work.

“Our attention will be on the routine this week, the self discipline of our players, the specific protocol for each position, the understanding of the plan. We have to take daily action to learn, improve and compete.”

Sophomore running back Trey Ragas, who led the Ragin’ Cajuns in rushing last season with 813 yards, went for 142 yards on the ground in the opener. The Cajuns ran for 336 yards while playing two quarterbacks — Andre Nunez (19 of 22 for 184 yards and two touchdowns) and Levi Lewis (4 of 8 for 57 yards and two TDs).

End Montez Sweat (rated the No. 32 prospect in the nation by NFLDraftScout.com) and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, a top 100 prospect, lead Mississippi State’s defense. They have combined for 38.5 tackles for loss in the past 15 games.

Senior center Elgton Jenkins, who has helped clear the way for the Bulldogs to average 302.0 rushing yards through two games, anchors the experienced offensive line.

The revelation in the backfield has been sophomore running back Kylin Hill, who won the starting job in camp over multi-year starter and 1,000-yard rusher Aeris Williams. Hill rushed for 211 yards and scored three touchdowns against Kansas State en route to earning SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

“It starts with the guys up front,” Moorhead said. “Hill certainly runs with his tremendous physicality. He runs behind his pads and also has that second gear to take it the distance.”

The Bulldogs are 3-0 all-time against Louisiana but the teams haven’t played since 1987. Mississippi State will be looking to run to win. The Bulldogs have rushed for more than 250 yards in 13 of their past 20 games. They were 8-1 last season when eclipsing 250 on the ground.

But Moorhead still wants more out from Fitzgerald — a potential first-round pick — in the passing game.

“A little bit of it is Nick shaking the rust off because he hasn’t played live in a game for almost an entire year,” Moorhead said. “And he’s in a new system, so all those things kind of combine together. I think week-by-week we’re going to see a gradual improvement.”

ALL  |  NFL  |  College Football  |  MLB  |  NBA