Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen will be facing his former team when the Mississippi State Bulldogs host Saturday evening’s festivities at Davis Wade Stadium. Florida has bounced back from a loss to Kentucky with victories over Colorado State and Tennessee. The Bulldogs had been undefeated before succumbing at Kentucky this past weekend.
Let’s be Franks
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks was a one-play wonder for all intents and purposes as a freshman last season. He famously beat Tennessee on a last-second Hail Mary but was otherwise unspectacular, with nine passing touchdowns and eight interceptions. In year two, Franks is putting it all together. The Crawfordville, Fla. native has accounted for 13 total touchdowns (12 passing) while throwing just two picks through four outings. He accounted for four scores in the rematch against Tennessee last Saturday, a commanding 47-21 romp by the Gators. Franks attempted just 18 passes as his team basically led from start to finish, but he finished with 172 yards and three TDs through the air. He has tossed multiple scoring strikes in all four games this season.
“Three touchdowns by our receivers,” Mullen said after Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, and tight end R.J. Raymond were on the receiving end of Franks’ touchdowns. “And Feleipe broke his (touchdown) mark from last year.”
Still, Florida is just 10th in the SEC in total offense this year (10th in passing, ninth in rushing). The Gators scored only 16 points in a loss to Kentucky, currently on paper the best team they have faced in 2018. Franks completed fewer than half of his attempts (17 of 38) during that setback.
Shooting themselves in the foot
Mississippi State had been undefeated at 3-0 before taking one on the chin in the form of a 28-7 loss at Kentucky last Saturday. Unbelievably, the Bulldogs had almost as many penalty yards (139) as total yards (201). They committed 16 penalties and gained only 56 yards on the ground on 28 rushing attempts (an anemic 2.0 average). MSU’s offensive line failed to block for the running game or protect quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who completed just half of his passes (16 of 32) for 145 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.
“You can’t let the same game beat you twice,” head coach Joe Moorhead said, referring to the importance of putting the loss to Kentucky behind them and preparing for Florida. “You have to have a short memory. Everything that we want to achieve as a team is still in front of us. We have our goals and we have two choices: either lay down on the mat and get counted out or stand up, dust yourself off and get back in the middle of the ring. We’ll get back in the middle of the ring.”
The offensive line must get better if Moorhead is going to see the overall improvement for which he hopes. Fitzgerald has already been sacked five times in 2018 after getting brought down just seven times throughout the entirety of last season. Being under pressure is part of the reason why he has completed only 41 of 80 pass attempts. Discipline must also improve. In Mississippi States other contest against tough competition (vs. Kansas State), it committed 11 penalties for 84 yards.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are:
- 4-1 ATS in their last five overall
- 8-2 ATS in their last 10 home games
- 6-1 ATS in their last seven games against teams with winning records
The Florida Gators are:
- 1-4 ATS in their last five road games
- 1-5 ATS in their last six games against the SEC
- 0-3-1 ATS in their last four games against Mississippi State
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Fitzgerald has not been able to do much through the air so far this year, but he has rushed for five touchdowns in three games (he missed the opener against Stephen F. Austin). The Bulldogs are No. 3 in the SEC in rushing yards per game and they are leading the conference in yards per carry at 6.6. Florida, on the other hand, has not done a whole lot in either offensive department even though Franks is showing obvious signs of improvement. But ultimately, Fitzgerald should be able to run over Florida’s defense that is better against the pass (150.5ypg) than against the run (189.8ypg).
Prediction: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Full-Game Total Pick
Mississippi State is more than capable of moving the ball, but penalties and a struggling offensive line are causing problems at the moment. MSU’s best strength is its rushing attack, but Florida held Tennessee to a dreadful 2.9 yards per attempt on the ground last weekend. The under is 14-4 in the Gators’ last 18 after scoring more than 40 points in their previous outing. It is also 5-1 in the Bulldogs’ last six overall, 7-3 in their last 10 at home, 5-1 in their last six against the SEC, and 5-2 in their last seven against winning opponents. Additionally, the under is 4-1 in the last five meetings between the two teams. Look for this one to stay under the total.
Full-Game Prop Bet
Can the Gators put up more than three touchdowns on Mississippi State? They blasted Tennessee for 47 points last week, but the Volunteers may be the worse team in the entire SEC. Against a real opponent in Kentucky, Florida scored a grand total of 16 points–and that was at home.
Prediction: Florida under 21.5 points
Half-Time Side Pick
Mississippi State held a players-only meeting this week in advance of Saturday’s shown. Will it help? Not matter? Hurt? Only time will tell, but it probably couldn’t have hurt. “I think what we covered in there was necessary,” Fitzgerald explained. “I think it was pretty obvious what we had to cover but it needed to be said, it needed to be brought up and brought to light and just put into the open so people can accept it and get over what they did and put those emotions they were playing with aside and just focus on football.” Look for the Bulldogs to get off to a fast start.
Prediction: Mississippi State Bulldogs -4.5
Half-Time Total Bet
Fitzgerald has completed just 51.3 percent of his passes (compared to his career mark of 54.9) and he threw an interception against Kentucky that ended his team’s chances. Mississippi State’s offensive line struggled while blocking for Kylin Hill and Aeris Williams, who had little room to put up any numbers. The OL combined for six false starts as MSU averaged just 2.0 yards per carry.
Prediction: Under 26