September 11, 2017 10:02:36 PM
Brett Hudson - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Dan Mullen knew he had to choose his moment carefully.
In his experience as Mississippi State's football coach, there are times when the best way to move past a rough start is to simply laugh about it. On the road against Louisiana Tech Saturday, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had one, completing one of his first six passes, one of them intercepted.
The one pass that was completed? Good for a loss of one yard.
"That was a pretty pathetic first quarter, right? That was awful," Mullen cracked through a smile. "We complete a couple of passes and at that point he's a little more relaxed, he'll laugh it off and say, 'Yeah that wasn't very good at all.'"
The light moment relieved Fitzgerald and sent him into a frenzy: he completed 11 of his next 12 attempts for 125 yards and three touchdowns. Fitzgerald acknowledged he, "wasn't playing like myself at all," and credited Mullen for snapping him out of it.
"It's good to have a coach that can come to you, make you laugh," he said.
Fitzgerald added the secret to avoiding a slow start in MSU's (2-0) Southeastern Conference debut against LSU (2-0) Saturday night at 6 p.m. is remaining calm in the opening possessions.
Key ready to play
A player Mullen labeled, "probably one of the most dominant players in the league," is expected to make his 2017 debut against MSU.
LSU defensive end Arden Key, who had 2.5 sacks against MSU last year, was cleared to play, LSU coach Ed Orgeron announced Monday. The Key saga began in the spring when he left the team for undisclosed personal reasons; he returned to the team late in the summer and did not play in LSU's first two games, wins over BYU and UT Chattanooga.
"I assumed he'd play in our game the whole time," Mullen said. "It seemed like he was setting up to come play in our game.
"You can scheme up, 'You're going to block that guy, you're going to block that guy,' but that might not work with him," Mullen said.
Key finished last season with 12 sacks, good for 10th in the nation. Oregeron also said he wasn't sure if defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence would play, who missed last week's game with an injury.
As of Monday morning, Mullen is uncertain of the kicking swap he made during the Louisiana Tech game is a permanent one.
After starter Tucker Day made a field goal and three of five extra points (the other two were blocked), Mullen used walk-on Jace Christmann to kick three extra points in the fourth quarter; he made all three.
"I need to see the Tucker I see in practice consistently in games," Mullen said. "It's not that he can't do it, he just doesn't have the confidence to go out there and do it.
I'm going to see in practice. I don't think in a game, anybody has done enough to say they're the guy."
The questions around the status of wide receiver Malik Dear continue, as now Mullen is saying Dear could play in some capacity as Saturday against the Tigers.
"I know he really wants to play this week," Mullen said. "Talking to trainers, he might practice some and have a limited role this week for us. We'll see how he does. He hasn't gone a full practice, but he might practice this week."
Dear injured his knee in spring practice and Mullen refused to rule him out for the 2017 season, hoping that rehabilitation and a few weeks in September would get Dear cleared to play.
- MSU defensive lineman and Noxubee County native Jeffery Simmons was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 2, the first such honor of his career. He became the first MSU defensive player since Johnthan Banks in 2009 to have two scores in the same game, one by blocked punt recovered in the end zone and another by 90-yard fumble recovery return.
- MSU's game at Georgia next week will kick off at 6 p.m. Central time, so 7 p.m. local time in Athens, Georgia, and be televised on ESPN. No. 13 Georgia beat Notre Dame on the road last week and hosts Samford before welcoming MSU to town. MSU has not won in Athens since 1956.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson