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Balanced effort leads MSU's ground attack

 

Brett Hudson

 

 

RUSTON, La. -- Dan Mullen's eyes dropped to the box score in his hands. 

 

In addition to seeing two 100-yard rushers -- Nick Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams -- the Mississippi State football coach saw his team more than double Louisiana Tech in rushing yards (327-152). 

 

Needless to say, Mullen offered glowing reviews of everyone involved. 

 

"(Running back) Aeris (Williams) was running the ball hard," Mullen said before he trailed off and looked at the box score again. "Man, he only had nine carries." 

 

Five other players had carries behind an offensive line that helped MSU average 8.2 yards per carry in a 57-21 victory. Their work was needed after MSU (2-0) fell behind 9-0 eight minutes into the game. 

 

"We blocked them up front, that's what we did," Mullen said. 

 

Said Williams a former standout at West Point High School, "The offensive line was blocking their tail off tonight." 

 

Trailing 9-0, MSU rallied thanks to a 53-yard run from Williams. On the play, center Elgton Jenkins and right guard Deion Calhoun pushed linemen to the right to give Williams a crease just right of center. MSU settled for a field goal on the drive, but MSU's next seven rushes went for 73 yards, a spurt that pushed it to a 30-9 lead midway through the second quarter. 

 

In the third quarter, MSU turned to its tight ends for event the assistance. On an option run that sent Fitzgerald to the left side, the edge block of tackle Martinas Rankin created a one-on-one situation for tight end Farrod Green against a defensive back. They were the only players between Fitzgerald and the end zone. Green dominated the block and cleared the way for Fitzgerald to reach the end zone untouched. 

 

"Sometimes you see that when they're running, they end up with a big play but a holding penalty but he was on a defensive back, a lesser guy, covered him up, a great block, hands inside and we ended up scoring," Mullen said. 

 

Mullen has hinted about MSU's use of tight ends to give its offense a multiple look. On Saturday, MSU spent a lot of time in one-tight end formations, but two-tight end looks gave MSU leverage inside. At times, MSU spread tight ends out in four- or five-wide receiver formation, to give it a better blocker in the perimeter spots. 

 

Fitzgerald knows the options are limitless. He looks forward to using as many as possible. 

 

"We have guys that can really get in the interior and block, get on the perimeter and block like you saw Farrod doing, catch passes. They can take jet sweeps and run the ball," he said. "They're a very versatile group, very talented, very smart, and very athletic." 

 

With help to clear the way for it, the running backs show no fear in taking on Williams' mantra: "Keep pounding."  

 

"We threw it out to the perimeter to spread it out and get some gaps in the middle. We really had all phases rolling finally at the end of the first quarter," Fitzgerald said. 

 

MSU was productive in the running game even though Williams had fewer carries than Mullen expected. Mullen was asked if he thought the ground attack would have been more effective if Williams had more carries. He took a second look at the box score, cocked his head and thought for a few seconds. 

 

"No, I'm fine, I just thought he had more because I thought he was really running hard in the game," Mullen said. 

 

Turns out the offensive line and everyone involved was blocking and working hard. 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson

 

 

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