Mississippi State senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald scored both touchdowns in a 23-9 win over No. 8 Auburn at Davis Wade Stadium Saturday night. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
October 7, 2018 2:06:39 AM
STARKVILLE -- Nick Fitzgerald entered the record books with flair.
To make this history on Saturday night already appeared to be a Herculean task, needing 144 rushing yards on a stingy No. 8 Auburn defense; to do so the way he did it, he admits, "is the cherry on top."
Fitzgerald's field-flipping 39-yard run early in the fourth quarter was the final journey needed to break Tim Tebow's SEC record for career rushing yards. Fitzgerald ran for 195, pushing his career total to 2,999 in the 23-9 win.
"Thinking about it, it's cool, it's awesome that that happened. I'm not sure it's actually quite hit me yet," Fitzgerald said. "Give me a little bit and I'll let you know. Overall, it's an amazing to know you've left your mark on the best conference in college football.
"It was never really something that was on my mind, something that I had to get it. I knew it was going to happen if I just played my game, made the reads and ran the offense the way I need to."
The way Fitzgerald did it was particularly impressive. Given MSU's heavy use of running back motion from perimeter alignments, it often meant the running back served as the outside threat, meaning if the read dictated the ball go into the middle of the defense, Fitzgerald would be the one to do it.
"He's a tough son of a gun," MSU (4-2, 1-2 SEC) coach Joe Moorhead said. "You come in and see him on Sundays after games and he's been through battles. That's why he's a captain: he's selfless, he cares more about the team than he does individual success. It speaks volumes of his willingness to do what it takes for us to be successful."
Fortune on MSU's side
After two weeks of the big moments going against MSU -- be it of their own actions or not -- MSU was on the favorable side of the game's biggest moments Saturday.
Most of them were Auburn offensive opportunities that fell uncaptured. There was a reverse back to Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, primed for him to launch a pass to a wide open Darius Slayton, just to be overthrown.
To start the second quarter, Auburn (4-2, 1-2 SEC) converted a fourth down to keep the drive alive, just for an errant snap on third-and-1 to force a 50-yard field goal attempt -- the only one Auburn kicker Anders Carlson missed. In the fourth quarter came a drop in the end zone, a catch that could have brought Auburn within three points; Auburn ultimately settled for a field goal that concluded its scoring.
Moorhead sounds off
MSU coach Joe Moorhead made it known he is not deaf to the criticism.
"I took my coaching pills this week, I forgot them the last two weeks," Moorhead joked.
After sputtering offensively for two consecutive weeks, he heard the chatter about his perceived desertion of the rushing attack, even though MSU stood at 56 percent run through five games. Moorhead pointed out on his Thursday radio show and after Saturday's game that through five weeks, MSU stood at roughly 60 to 65 percent run calls on first and second down, even if reads turned some of those calls into passes.
What was important to him, in the face of criticism, was faith in his process.
"The message has been consistent. We didn't go in last Sunday, fly off the rails and try to reinvent the wheel because we lost a close game to a really good Florida team," Moorhead said. "We're going to stick with our process, we're going to do and we're going to do it better.
"We're looking for short-term success this and to build a program over the course of time to have sustained success. When you have consistent patterns, you have consistent production; when you have inconsistent patterns you have inconsistent production. This is a process, and when we stick to it and do the things that are necessary, these are the results."
Cornerback Jamal Peters' absence continued, but Moorhead delivered the news that after this week his status improved from out indefinitely to day-to-day. Now MSU's hopes turn to two more starters that missed the game: defensive back Brian Cole and offensive lineman Darryl Williams.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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