Florida at Mississippi State
9.22.18 / 6:00 PM
Saturday’s game in Starkville has many intriguing storylines. Forgoing the obvious one for a moment, let’s take a look at the others. The teams will be coming at each other from polar opposite sides of the emotional spectrum after last week’s results.
The Gators went on the road for the first time this season and blasted Tennessee in front of a very hostile crowd. On the flipside, Mississippi State came tumbling back down to earth after being humbled by a better than anticipated Kentucky team.
The latter sets up another set of wrinkles in this week’s story. Both teams will come into the game with 3-1 records with both schools losing to Kentucky. That team from the Bluegrass State may have laid the blueprint for defeating the Bulldogs in the process.
Beyond these points, there’s an awkward familiarity involved in this game. It isn’t often that two teams will face each other while breaking in first year head coaches. Even less common that a team would find themselves in that very situation two weeks in a row. Those odds are made even more astronomical when you have one of those coaches facing his former team.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen knows the Bulldogs roster very well. He recruited most of them and spent the last nine years creating the type of program that they have become. Because of this, he has a slight edge in knowing how to prepare for each players’ skill set.
The bad news is that slight edge is a double edged blade. Just as Mullen knows the intricacies of Mississippi State’s roster, the players know Mullen’s scheme. It is a safe bet that both sides will be taking advantage of such knowledge.
The fans in Starkville have been quite open about their bitterness, like the crazy ex who just can’t let things go. They’ve denied knowledge of his existence, claimed that he played no part in their newfound success, and even announced that they would be honoring Jackie Sherrill as the school’s all time winningest coach during the game on Saturday night.
For context, Sherill spent 12 years as the Bulldogs head coach and amassed a 75-75-2 record. In just 9 years, Mullen won 69 games at MSU. The emotions will be high, I suspect on both sides of Davis Wade Stadium. The Bulldogs, seeking to fulfill some form of retribution for their perceived slight. The Gators will be looking to defend their new coach and show their loyalty with another SEC victory.
At a glance:
Mississippi State Bulldogs
2018 record: 3-1 (0-1)
Head coach: Joe Moorhead
With the myriad of stories and taglines meant to hype this game up out of the way, let’s take a look at the X’s and O’s. This may be the best defensive line that Florida will face all season. Not only are they big, strong, and physical, but they are deep too.
Florida will need the best performance of the year from their offensive line and it will need to be a complete game. They took a massive step forward last week against Tennessee but the talent level of their opponent will also take a giant step up this week as well.
The Gators must impose their will in the trenches and get the running game involved early and often. This is the key to exposing the soft spots in the Bulldogs defense. Once they are forced to respect the run, they will have to let off of the blitz. When that happens, Feleipe Franks, Freddie Swain, Van Jefferson, and Trevon Grimes will be able to really attack a mediocre secondary.
On the defensive side of things, Florida is really putting it together. The Gators lead the nation in takeaways with 14. They must continue to maintain gap integrity and tackling fundamentals. UF Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham will have to have a perfect balance of pressure and containment against one of the more talented dual threat quarterbacks in the nation, Nick Fitzgerald.
A side by side positional comparison shows that this Bulldogs offense is far from unstoppable. In fact, Florida’s positional leaders come out on top in nearly every category.
Nick Fitzgerald: 41/80 542 YD 4 TD 2 INT
Feleipe Franks: 50/95 742 YD 12 TD 2 INT
Kylin Hill: 36 CAR 307 YD 3 TD
Dameon Pierce: 21 CAR 225 YD 2 TD
Osirus Mitchell: 9 REC 184 YD 2 TD
Freddie Swain: 8 REC 193 YD 3 TD
While Hill has been impressive with the ball in his hands, averaging 8.5 YPC, Pierce has averaged 10.7 YPC. The Gators have outpaced Miss State in scoring offense as well, averaging 41 PPG to MSU’s 39.25 PPG. Scoring defense goes to Miss State at 13.5 PPG to 16 PPG but Florida has also played two SEC opponents.
Bottom line, this is a very important game for Florida. It is a winnable game as well, provided the team continues its upward trajectory. A win in Starkville would be a statement and cause the rest of the college football world to take notice of Dan Mullen and the Gators.
Florida will face Mississippi State live from Davis Wade Stadium at 6:00 p.m. EST. You can watch the game live on ESPN and be sure to follow along with the live game thread on the ChompTalk.com Facebook and Twitter accounts.