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Injuries force MSU to turn to young receivers


Brett Hudson



STARKVILLE -- On the first play of Mississippi State's final possession, desperately trying to erase a seven-point deficit, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald escaped to his right and shed an Alabama rusher. As he set his feet, he saw Reggie Todd -- a freshman -- trotting toward the sideline. 


Fitzgerald didn't hesitate and threw a completion, to a freshman to start what he hoped would be a game-tying drive. Such is the reality for MSU's offense as it attacks the last stretch of the regular season. 


No. 18 MSU (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference, No. 16 College Football Playoff) and its injury problems at wide receiver forced it to turn to youth against one of the nation's top defenses and it did not disappoint. Underclassmen showed what the future has in Saturday's 31-24 loss to No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC, No. 2 CFP). 


"We always say we're a developmental program, but it's great to see young guys step up when they have the opportunity," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. 


Even in a well-distributed receiving workload -- 13 completions spread throughout 10 Bulldogs -- it was three sophomores leading the way. Deddrick Thomas, Todd and Farrod Green all had two catches each for 30, 25 and 24 yards, respectively. 




Cooke's impact felt 


MSU punter Logan Cooke's season average -- which already ranked in the top 30 nationally entering Saturday -- is certain to see a boost after punting five times for an average of 46.6 yards, with two of them pinning Alabama inside the 20-yard line. 


Alabama had to wait until its final possession of the game to start a drive in better field position than its own 25-yard line. 




Alabama proving its point 


The Crimson Tide has all the painful memories of failing to come up with a defensive stop when it's desperately needed: it lost last year's national championship game to Clemson with one second left on the clock. 


Since then, Alabama has built its 2017 season around an emphasis on finishing, and its players viewed holding MSU scoreless in its final three possessions as significant progress. 


"It was crucial. We're all about finishing this year," Alabama defensive back Anthony Averett said. "This game was just like last year, what happened with Clemson. This game kind of took a lot, but we have to finish. We finished today." 




Series of firsts 


MSU safety J.T. Gray got the first sack of his career on Alabama's first possession. He was soon joined by both Fletcher Adams and Erroll Thompson is also recording their first career sacks. 


Wide receiver Jamal Couch also got the first start of his career, making him the 11th Bulldog to earn that honor this season. 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson



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