- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Mississippi State’s season looked bleak during a rough October that included three straight losses.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the Bulldogs’ 35-28 win over then-No. 7 Texas A&M on Saturday.

The only person who didn’t seem particularly surprised by the performance was Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who said the Bulldogs have always had talent, but were struggling with consistency.

“We knew we had a really young roster going into the year and with certain injuries happening, it made us even younger,” Mullen said. “Those guys are getting more comfortable in making plays out there on the field.”

Many of Mississippi State’s best players are young. They’ll get a huge challenge on Saturday, when the Bulldogs (4-5, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) travel to face No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0) in Tuscaloosa.

Sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald continued his breakout season with one of his best performances against Texas A&M. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 182 yards and ??? touchdowns.

His only costly mistakes were two interceptions that ended promising drives. Mullen said those moments are frustrating, but he’s pleased that Fitzgerald isn’t making the same mistake twice. Now, heading into his 10th career start, he’s become one of the best dual-threat players in the conference.

“The number of plays he is making is increasing because of his comfort in his decision making,” Mullen said.

He was helped against Texas A&M by fellow sophomore Aeris Williams, who ran for a career-high 140 yards and a touchdown on Saturday.

The Fitzgerald-Williams combination on read-option plays gave Texas A&M trouble all afternoon and it was reminiscent of 2014, when quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson sliced through opposing defenses on the way to the program’s first No. 1 ranking in school history.

There were many other reasons for Mississippi State’s surprising victory over the Aggies, including a vast improvement from the offensive line and the secondary.

Sophomore safety Mark McLaurin had a sack early in the game and grabbed an interception late in the game that stopped Texas A&M final drive and sealed the win for the Bulldogs.

Mullen said the spectacular plays are nice - whether it’s on offense on defense - but the reason the Bulldogs were able to win was improved fundamentals on routine plays.

“We didn’t make a lot of mistakes, we ran the ball and we didn’t miss tackles,” Mullen said. “Guys were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.”

That may or may not be enough to beat No. 1 Alabama, which has won eight straight in the series, including four in a row in Tuscaloosa. But after the win against A&M, at least the Bulldogs have some confidence.

“It means a lot,” linebacker Richie Brown said following Saturday’s win. “It kind of shows what we’re capable of. And we knew it. When we play well, we can beat anybody on any given Saturday.”


More AP college football at www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 .

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