ATHENS, Georgia — In lieu of the traditional college football Sunday day-after story, The Clarion-Ledger will instead this season offer an "exit survey" following each Mississippi State game. Below, beat writer Will Sammon and sports editor Hugh Kellenberger relive the Bulldogs' 31-3 loss to Georgia.
What is your Tweet-length review of this game?
Will Sammon: Dan Mullen likes to say the difference between a pat on the back and a kick in the rear is six inches. In this case, it was seven days.
Hugh Kellenberger:Sometimes a game really lives up to the billing. And other times you wait seven days for a game and it's over in five minutes.
What was the most memorable sequence of events?
WS: Those who affiliate themselves with Mississippi State will continue to shake their heads after uttering the words, "that flea-flicker" for some time. It was a great play-call by Georgia to open the game that way and Mississippi State was fooled.
Georgia lined up in a run formation with two tight ends. By the time Nick Chubb tossed the ball back to Jake Fromm, safety Mark McLaurin was already in the box and corner Tolando Cleveland was caught flat-footed. The result was a memorable 59-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Terry Godwin. That play coupled with the atmosphere of the home crowd set the precedent for a long night for MSU.
HK:That was the most significant play of the game, to be sure. But what I'll remember is what happened when Mississippi State tried to the run the ball. How many times did Aeris Williams get the ball on a cutback, see a hole or race to the edge — only to get tackled for a short gain? I thought Williams actually ran hard Saturday — there were negative plays he turned into positive yardage. But Georgia's defense was just way too fast for any play that was at all remotely slow-developing.
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In December, what about this game will we still be talking about?
WS: Things can change quickly. It took four weeks for Mississippi State's blemishes to show and when they appeared, they were obvious. There will be plenty of "what could have been" talk about this game regardless of how the rest of the season plays out.
On a player-specific level, the discussion — fair or unfair — will be about Nick Fitzgerald and how he wasn't there yet in terms of his development to engineer the comeback that was needed.
More: Kellenberger: This was a game Mississippi State needed Fitzgerald to carry it through
HK: This was a game where the East had its way with the West, a sentence that has not been uttered very much around the SEC in recent years. We expected this to be a game between two teams vying to be the best non-Alabama team in the league. What we saw was a Georgia team that looked very capable of a special season matching up with a Mississippi State team that was just not ready to play at that level.
Yeah, so about the offensive play-calling …
WS: Hugh and I talked about this soon after the game. I was among those who pointed out that MSU's offense often looked predictable, especially on third-and-short and a Fitzgerald run was called. I still think it was too predictable at times, but Hugh reminded me something many lost sight of: this is an offense that relies heavily on RPOs, with accompanying reads and decisions based on what the defense is offering. It sounds simple and became redundant, but Mullen wasn't wrong; his team didn't execute its game plan well enough against a very talented defense.
HK:You know, it makes it harder for me to make my point when you go ahead and make it for me. But yes, if Dan Mullen was a genius for the way Mississippi State whipped LSU then he didn't become a dummy a week later. One of the things Mullen mentioned in a critique of Fitzgerald was that he may have "over-managed" the game. Basically: dumping it off to check-down receivers and short runs are not going to win many football games against good teams.
Did you see Jake Fromm?
WS: I was tempted to write about MSU kicker Jace Christmann in this space because he made his fourth straight field goal in as many attempts in his career. But what was more important and is worthier of pointing out was Fromm, a true freshman, who was near-flawless against MSU's defense.
Fromm received great protection, but it has to be concerning for Todd Grantham that a guy making his SEC debut completed 9 of 12 passes, never looked rattled and consistently hit receivers running cross patterns right over the middle while making it look easy.
HK:Fromm is a good quarterback. I'm also high on Jacob Eason, who watched from the sideline Saturday night. Georgia has a good problem to have with two guys that can execute at a fairly high level.
More: Mississippi State defense brought back to earth in loss to Georgia
OK, so what about next Saturday?
WS:Mullen spent a few minutes in his post-game press conference talking about how he doesn't understand why people would label the SEC down this year. His position made sense, considering MSU will play its third straight SEC game against a top-20 team on Saturday when the Bulldogs visit No. 15 Auburn (3-1) at 5 p.m. on ESPN.
The Tigers scored 51 on Missouri, but that was Missouri. There are question marks about Auburn's offense, but its defense may present a similar challenge that Georgia's did.
HK:Auburn beats up on bad football teams. It tends to suffer to meet expectations against good ones. Despite Saturday's performance, Mississippi State remains a good football team. But, as horribly cliche as it sounds, it has to have a good week of practice and come out on the Plains loose and ready to play with confidence — and take some chances.
WS: Being held to 2.9 yards on first downs put MSU in a bind because it has trouble converting on anything longer than third-and-6. But that was one game. What has become increasingly troubling is something that we've known for a while and that is this team doesn't have enough reliable targets and none that can stretch the field vertically.
Donald Gray is the team's best receiver, but he has 108 receiving yards after four games. Deddrick Thomas and Keith Mixon are speedsters who can make things happen in play-action and with quick slants, but they're not deep threats. There was some hype about Jordan Thomas being used on the outside, but he didn't even have a catch against UGA. Mullen said he didn't think his receivers won one 50-50 ball in the game and that can't happen if you want to win games after falling behind early.
HK:Again, you're out here making my points for me. So I'll flip it over to the defense. I think you have to be worried about how the corners played against Georgia. UGA's receivers as a group are fine, but they're probably middle of the pack in the SEC. And there were too many throws downfield where the MSU corner was beat and scrambling to recover. State didn't have a pass rush in this game — you try to establish that when the other team throws it all of 12 times — and its corners were stuck on an island and defending for prolonged periods, to not great results.