1. The 2017 season is off to a strong start this year, particularly Nick Fitzgerald, with eight combined touchdowns in two games. What do you think has improved about his game so far?
Nick Fitzgerald picked up 2017 right where he left off in '16. Despite a poor first quarter against Louisiana Tech and an interception that I think we can agree was an actually bad pass, Fitzgerald is slowly chipping away at the "Bad Decision Matrix", found in the brain of every college QB. Also, I'm not sure that it was physically possible but he may have gotten faster over the offseason. The key to me though about Fitzgerald's development is the simple factor that he spent another offseason enrolled in Dan Mullen's College of Quarterbacking. It's quite prestigious, I'm sure you've seen some of its alumni in the professional realm.
2. Fitzgerald is going to draw most of the headlines this week, but name some of the other threats LSU needs to know about on this team.
Top back Aeris Williams should certainly be at the top of the list of concerns for LSU fans. Last week, Williams collected 107 yards on a measly 9 carries, in addition to a catch for 28 yards. If there's an explosive play coming from the MSU side of the ball, there's a pretty solid chance it's in the hands of Fitzgerald or Williams. A guy I'm personally most fired up about is defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. We saw a sneak preview against Charleston Southern but Simmons opened up full throttle against Louisiana Tech. Simmons recorded the first two touchdown game by a defensive player since Jim Thorpe Award winner Jonathan Banks in 2008. Here, I'll give you a quick rundown of some of the impact plays Simmons was responsible for Saturday: a blocked extra point, a blocked punt that he also recovered for a touchdown, a recovered and returned fumble that he took 90 yards for a touchdown. My mans was eatin'.
3. Any feel for how the defense has improved under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham?
The number one thing I have noticed in the defense this year versus whatever it was that Peter Sirmon put out there last season, is that these guys are absolutely FLYING to the ball. Every single play, all 11 guys swarm the ball faster and harder than I have seen since the days of Geoff Collins, and it might be even better than that. They also just seem more coordinated when they're adjusting pre-snap. Sirmon's defense seemed confused and choppy, where it seemed like the linebackers were arguing about coverage till the ball was snapped. We saw glimpses of what Grantham could do with talent last season at Louisville, but he lacked the size to pair with the speed of his players to take the Cardinals to the next level. Here in the land of the SEC West, the SEC 'crootin cup runneth over and we've already begun to see his impact on that front after he helped land the No. defensive end in Mississippi.
4. What's the general feeling on this game on the State side? This rivalry has always been fairly one-sided, but with the game being in Starkville, at night, surely the crowd will be loud and the team amped up. Confident? Or just hopeful?
I like to speak for the entire fanbase when I make bold claims about our football program, so let me say that there's a feeling of confidence about the game. Granted, I've never really felt unsure about any team coming into Starkville other than Alabama. I don't care what you think about the school, town or program, this is a hard place to come play a football game. Cowbells are loud as hell and no amount of bourbon can change that, LSU fans. I think Mullen will have the team ready to go and I think there's some crucial experience on the team this year that lacked from the 2016 squad.
5. Best guess on how this game will play out?
It's not profound or terribly insightful but MSU cannot start slow on Saturday like they did against Louisiana Tech. If Fitzgerald throws an early pick against LSU, this game may be out or reach before it even begins. Mullen and Co have to establish the offense early, because I think there's no question about the consistency of the defense. Given all that, I still think the offense struggles early against the first truly talented defense they've seen this season, but the defense will keep it within reach, allowing for the offense to turn it on late. I'm going low and slow on this one, 17-13 Bulldogs.