St. Petersburg Bowl Preview
Miami-Ohio Redhawks vs Mississippi State Bulldogs
There’s some intrigue between the two teams meeting in the home of the Tampa Bay Rays (Tropicana Field) for the St. Petersburg Bowl (Enter Contest). Thanks to a high APR (Academic Progress Rate), Mississippi State makes the postseason with a 5-7 record.
The Bulldogs feature a rising star in quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who recorded at least 365 total yards in four out of the team’s final five contests. A similar storyline took place on the RedHawks’ sideline, as Gus Ragland returned from a knee injury to throw for 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions during the six-game winning streak. Ragland and receivers should be able to find room to make plays, as Mississippi State has surrendered 31 passing scores this year. Miami (Ohio) ranks third in the MAC in scoring defense, but this unit’s ability to stop the run will be tested against Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams at the St. Petersburg Bowl.
ABOUT MIAMI (6-6, 6-2 Mid-American Conference East)
Miami (Ohio) started 0-6 and finished the year with six consecutive victories. Their remarkable turnaround qualified the RedHawks for their first bowl since the 2010 season when they took down Middle Tennessee 35-21 in the Go.Daddy Bowl. The Redhawks are the first team in NCAA history to start the season 0-6 before winning six straight and averaged almost 30 points during the streak to do it while limiting four of six opponents to 20 or fewer. Ragland completed 62.4 percent of his passes and also rushed for two scores while sophomores Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young combined for 1,179 yards to go along with five touchdowns on the ground. Sophomore James Gardner (40 catches, 658 yards, five TDs), junior Jared Murphy (42, 532, five) and senior Rokeem Williams (22, 463, three) give Ragland three dangerous options in the air.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (5-7, 3-5 SEC West)
The Bulldogs make their school-record seventh straight trip to a bowl game despite a 5-7 record, getting added as an eligible team to help fill the enormous bowl schedule because of their academic standing after a 55-20 victory over Ole Miss in the regular season finale. Mississippi State’s offense stepped it up in the second half of the season, averaging more than 45 points in the five games that were not against No. 1 Alabama. They’ve scored 24.8 points per game in the first six of the season and Fitzgerald was key to the revival, rushing for at least 100 yards in five of the six second-half contests, while throwing for five touchdowns and no interceptions in the final two games. Sophomore De’Andre Montgomery and junior Heath Harding each have picked off four passes for the RedHawks.
Senior Fred Ross is Fitzgerald’s top target with 68 receptions for 873 yards and 12 touchdowns while junior Donald Gray has also contributed with 39 catches and 691 yards to go along with five scores. Fitzgerald logged 52 more carries than anyone else on the team, but sophomore Aeris Williams is quite capable after accumulating 656 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Bulldogs often struggled on defense (110th in the nation in yards allowed per game), but senior linebacker Richie Brown (93 tackles) and senior lineman Johnathan Calvin (seven sacks) had their moments.