St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State 17, Miami University 16: 5 Things That Matter, What’s Next For 2017?
Mississippi State survived a dogfight with Miami University, coming up with a blocked kick to win the St. Petersburg Bowl 17-16. What are the 5 things that matter and what’s next for 2017?
Mississippi State, just take the bowl win, and move on
This was a tough year for Mississippi State. It was supposed to be a rebuild/rebound season after losing Dak Prescott, but it had enough veterans to be okay. Instead, it all started out with a thud, losing on a field goal to a Sun Belt team – South Alabama. The Bulldogs almost closed out the season with a loss to a MAC team, but this time around, the special teams came through with a blocked kick – and a blocked extra point earlier – to survive the 17-16 win.
You’re 6-7, Mississippi State, and you beat Ole Miss in a blowout, and you won a bowl game.
It doesn’t matter how the sausage is made, and it doesn’t matter that Mississippi State is loaded with guys who wouldn’t think about opening a Miami University recruiting letter if you paid them. A win is a win, and to go Bill Parcells cliché, you are what your record is.
Going into next year, Mississippi State needs more weapons
Nick Fitzgerald did just about everything to carry the team this year, and once again, he did it all with a team-high 132 rushing yards and two scores – taking some massive hits – while completing 13-of-26 passes for 136 yards. Granted, the Miami University defense is solid, but the Bulldogs should’ve been able to do far more offensively.
RB Aeris Williams did his part, running for 64 good yards and taking a pass for 24 yards, but that was about it. Fitzgerald won’t be able to do it alone next year if the Bulldogs are going to improve.
More on this in a moment.
It might have been heartbreaking for Miami University, but …
It was a fantastic year for a team that hadn’t known any success for a long, long time.
The RedHawks have their star in Gus Ragland to build around – he finally threw an interception, his first of the year – and the running game that had been missing from the program for so, so long was able to hold its own against an SEC line.
MU played its game. It slowed the game down to a halt – keeping the ball for over 35 minutes – it got a nice performance out of Ragland, and the team outgained MSU by almost 100 yards. But the two turnovers and two blocked kicks were the difference. Now, however, the program knows it can hang around with a Power Five program and come within a whisker of beating one.
What’s Next for Miami University in 2017?
Was this just the beginning? Having back Gus Ragland at quarterback is a start, and he’ll welcome back his top running backs with Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young returning. The receiving corps needs more playmakers, but Ragland is good enough to make everyone around him better. Collin Buchanan will be misses at right tackle, but the line should be a plus with three good young starters back, especially Jordan Rigg at left tackle.
The defense that was so fantastic returns loaded. It loses end J’Terius Jones and Austin Gearing, but that’s it. All nine other starters are back along with almost all the key reserves. The top five tacklers, and six of the top seven, are all returning.
What’s Next for Mississippi State in 2017?
Here’s the problem. Yeah, QB Nick Fitzgerald is going to grow into a bigger star, but he needs help. The guys around him who were supposed to shine were just okay. WR Fred Ross is gone, as are backs Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert, but Aeris Williams is back at running back along with most of the other experienced wide receivers. Not helping matters is a line that loses three starters.
The defense also loses three starters on the line, hurt mostly by the departure of end A.J. Jefferson along with Nick James on the nose. Heart-and-soul LB Richie Brown is also done, along with Kivon Carter from the secondary. In all, seven starters have to be replaced on D.