2016 RECORD: 6-7 overall, 3-5 in the SEC West
In the next part of our series previewing Georgia's 2017 schedule, it's time to take a look at the Bulldogs' SEC opener - Mississippi State.
The Maroon are coming off a 6-7 campaign. This year's MSU squad will bring some familiar faces to Sanford Stadium in new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, along with former Bulldog linebacker Chauncey Rivers and safety Jonathan Abram.
To find out more about MSU, we turned to beat writer Logan Lowery with the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
Check out what he had to say below:
UGASports.com: What’s your current overall outlook on Mississippi State for this upcoming season, just based off of what you saw and heard this spring?
Lowery: "I think the Bulldogs will be better than they were a year ago. They know who their quarterback is now, and he has a full year of experience under his belt as a starter. Tailback Aeris Williams should be an upgrade and help Nick Fitzgerald in the running game. Anything has to be better than what defense coordinator Peter Sirmon ran last year when Mississippi State was allowing 459.1 yards and 31.8 points per game. The Bulldogs backed into a bowl at 5-7 due to their high APR score, but they shouldn't have to worry about that this year. I'm not picking MSU to win the Western Division by any means, but it could also have a say in who does."
UGASports.com: Which positions do you think Mississippi State feels best about heading into the 2017, and why? On the flip side, what positions do you see as the team's biggest concerns?
Lowery: "Obviously, Mississippi State has its quarterback quandary settled after entering last fall with four signal callers in the mix – three of whom have since transferred out. Nick Fitzgerald emerged as the starter and led the SEC in total offense despite taking just a handful of snaps in the season opener.
"The Bulldogs like where they are with Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams in the backfield. Williams provided production down the stretch last season as a sophomore despite two seniors ahead of him on the depth chart. MSU needs to get its offensive line in order. No matter who emerges at center, the Bulldogs will begin the year with no one having snapped in a collegiate game before.
"State will also need to replace Fred Ross' role at receiver. Donald Gray had a good year, but the Bulldogs will need its young crop of 6-foot-4 wideouts – Jamal Couch, Osirus Mitchell and Reggie Todd – to shoulder some of that load. Slot starter Malik Dear tore his ACL in the spring and it's uncertain if he will play in 2017. The other area that is a concern is kicker. Mississippi State has struggled mightily at kicker for several years and its starter the last two seasons – Westin Graves – gave up football due to a back injury. The Bulldogs are hoping top punter signee Tucker Day can also handle placekicking duties.
"MSU will have a healthy competition at safety. Brandon Bryant and Mark McLaurin are back, but were pushed during the spring by JUCO transfers Brian Cole and Jonathan Abram – both of whom have Division I experience. Cole began his career at Michigan and Abram at Georgia. Former outside linebacker J.T. Gray is also moving back to safety in Todd Grantham's new defense, which is where Gray began his collegiate career."
UGASports.com: Who do you see as Mississippi State's top players on each side of the ball, and why?
Lowery: "Fitzgerald solidified himself as an offensive weapon last season with 3,798 yards and 37 touchdowns. Rankin is projected as a first rounder in some of the early NFL mock drafts. Williams and Donald Gray will likely have breakout seasons as well. Defensively, linebacker Leo Lewis and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons both had big-time years as freshmen last fall. Montez Sweat could also make an impact after transferring in from junior college after beginning his career at Michigan State."
UGASports.com: Which lesser-known players really turned heads during practices and in the spring game?
Lowery: "I can't really comment on practices because Dan Mullen closed all of them save for one 20-minute stretching period. There were two players that stood out during the spring game. Cornerback Cameron Dantzler had two interceptions – one of which he returned 81-yards for a touchdown. Dantzler redshirted last fall as a freshman. Running back Nick Gibson gained 108 yards on 17 carries. The former four-star prospect only got nine carries for 57 yards last season as a redshirt freshman due to a crowded backfield."
UGASports.com: Although there’s only so much one can learn from spring practices, based on how the team looked in the spring game, what can you draw as far as how an opponent like Georgia should scout Mississippi State and then game-plan for the Bulldogs on each side of the ball?
Lowery: "The Bulldogs were very vanilla on offense and were running both offenses with a makeshift line and a true freshman quarterback – Keytaon Thompson – running one of them. Defensively, MSU was still learning Grantham's new system during the spring so there might not be much to go on there either. Georgia and State haven't played since 2011, so I imagine there will be plenty of scouting done once the season gets going and before they play on Sept. 23."
Mississippi State 2017 Schedule
at Louisiana Tech
at Texas A&M
Nov. 23 (Thurs.)