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Lewis, Green lead bright future for Bulldogs

The 2016 season for the Mississippi State Bulldogs started with a missed field goal and ended with a blocked field goal.

It’s funny how everything eventually comes full circle.

The Bulldogs trailed for 47 minutes and 57 seconds of their bowl game Monday against Miami (OH), but blocked a last-second field goal attempt by the RedHawks to seal the comeback victory 17-16 in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

The Bulldogs finished the season 6-7 overall, capping off a turbulent season with a rout of in-state rival Ole Miss and a bowl win over Miami.

For all the ups and downs that MSU faced during the 2016 season, a bowl win is everything head coach Dan Mullen would’ve wanted and more. Yes, his team didn’t play their best football against a team they were heavily favored against, but extra practices and an opportunity to play a bowl game is the perfect ending for any head coach.

Brookhaven native and freshman linebacker for the Bulldogs Leo Lewis finished the game with seven total tackles, which was second on the team, six of them solo tackles. Lewis is one of the many bright spots MSU going forward. Lewis was second on the team with tackles for the season and led all freshmen in the SEC in tackles. Lewis had 79 total tackles on the season, 35 solo tackles and 44 assisted tackles. Lewis’ role will only expand in the 2017 season as senior linebacker Richie Brown will be graduating and moving on from Starkville. Lewis will be looked on as the main defensive presence for the Bulldogs and as a leader at the linebacker position. Lewis is just one of the many young players the Bulldogs are excited about for building into the future.

Freshman tight end and Wesson native Farrod Green had a smaller impact on the season than Leo Lewis, but showed bright spots throughout the season. Green only had one catch for 13 yards against Miami Monday afternoon, but Green had 11 catches for 121 yards and one touchdown on the season. His best game came against Massachusetts, totaling three catches for 38 yards and his lone touchdown on the season.

Dan Mullen said it best after their bowl win Monday about his programs future. ‘

“When you look in the locker room, the guys believe in what you’re going to do and the guys believe in the program. It’s bigger than just one game.”

The crop of young talent in Starkville starts with sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald struggled passing against Miami going 13-26 passing for only 136 yards, but led a strong rushing attack, totaling 132 yards on 18 carries and two scores for the Bulldogs.

It’s big shoes to fill for Fitzgerald replacing Bulldog legend Dak Prescott, but the offense continues to roll under center. Fitzgerald needs to be more consistent as a passer, especially in the pocket for MSU, but the offense will move as long as Fitzgerald continues to run the ball effectively. Fitzgerald led the SEC in total offense and looks to build on his strong season for a follow up in 2017.

Sophomore running back Aeris Williams is another bright spot on offense for the Bulldogs. The West Point native was second on the team in rushing with 731 yards and four touchdowns on the season only behind Fitzgerald, who ran for 1,495 yards and 16 touchdowns. Williams finished the game against Miami with 12 carries for 64 yards. Williams finished the season strong, rushing for 450 yards over the final month of the season. The ground game combination of Fitzgerald and Williams will prove to carry the Bulldogs in the near future.

The real problem for the Bulldogs will come on the defensive side of the football as the defense gave up 40 points four times. The Bulldogs ranked 109 out of 128 teams in the FBS in total defense, giving up 459 yards of offense per game.

After eight years in Starkville, Dan Mullen has led his Bulldogs to seven bowl games and a 61-42 overall record. This season was his worst season record-wise since his first year on the job. Mullen has done an incredible job with Mississippi State and building a program that consistently wins games, plays in bowl games and graduates student athletes and some of them moving on to the NFL.

That trend should continue under Mullen with a strong core of young players, including Leo Lewis.