STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback and the Bulldogs defeated South Carolina 27-14 Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.
Fitzgerald rushed 17 times for 195 yards and also passed for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Mississippi State (1-1) captured its first win of the season in its SEC opener after being upset by South Alabama last week.
“I like the effort the players came out with in the first half,” said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. “That looked like Mississippi State football. We have to do a better job in the red zone, especially in the first half and we had some big missed opportunities there. But we played with effort and I am not sure I saw that for the entire game last week.”
South Carolina (1-1) was outgained 485-243 in total offense. The Gamecocks did register a pair of second half touchdown passes from freshman quarterback Brandon McIllwain, who started the second half for South Carolina after not playing in the first half.
Fitzgerald’s rushing yards for a quarterback broke a 36-year old school record. His 195 yards easily passed former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond’s previous record of 163 rushing yards in 1980 against Ole Miss.
“It was kinda what I saw last week when we decided to start Nick,” said Mullen. “He had a good week of practice. We had to make that decision to start him, let ho, go and play the game. We decided that before the game and he came out and played fairly well. There were a couple of things here and there in the throw game but a lot of that comes from experience.”
Mississippi State rolled to a 24-0 lead at halftime thanks to a pair of touchdown passes by Fitzgerald. Receiver Fred Ross had a touchdown catch and a touchdown pass in the first half.
The Bulldogs outgained South Carolina 324-90 in total yards in the first half. A lightning delay forced both teams to stay inside the locker room for an extra 32 minutes at halftime.
McIllwain finished with 126 yards passing and two touchdowns. Hayden Hurst led the Gamecocks with eight catches for 68 yards. As a team, South Carolina was held to just 34 yards rushing and both quarterbacks were each sacked twice.
“In the second half, we’ve got young players and they’ve got to learn to keep it cranked up for four quarters,” said Mullen. “We had the lightning delay and guys were waiting, waiting, waiting. So we’ve got to learn to crank it back up.”
Last week Mullen also started Fitzgerald but pulled him after just two series. Junior Damian Williams went the rest of the way in the loss to South Alabama. Williams did not play on Saturday and Mullen said Fitzgerald would start Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to LSU.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks only had 90 yards of total offense in the first half with Perry Orth at quarterback. Orth was 9-of-17 for just 83 yards with one interception.
Mississippi State: In his second career start, Nick Fitzgerald had career highs in rushing yards, passing touchdowns, passing yards, pass attempts and pass completions.
South Carolina: After opening the season with two straight road games, South Carolina hosts East Carolina next Saturday in the home opener.
Mississippi State: Mississippi State goes on the road for the first time this season next Saturday with a trip to LSU.