STARKVILLE, MS – NOVEMBER 5: Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald #7 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Davis Wade Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

The Mississippi State Bulldogs upset the Texas A&M Aggies 35-28, keeping their hopes of a bowl game alive.

Make no mistake about it: this was a huge victory for Dan Mullen’s young team. After all, the Dawgs are in the midst of a tough season. MSU started the year with a loss to South Alabama, when it missed a field goal on the last play of the game. It would drop two more heartbreakers along the way: an OT loss to BYU and a last-second defeat on a 51-yard field goal by Kentucky.

Mississippi State made sure that it wouldn’t drop another nail-biter on Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on a 74-yard run by Nick Fitzgerald and never looked back. The Bulldogs would extend that margin to 21 points with 3:52 to play in the first half. Even after a long punt return touchdown — aided by an obvious block in the back — cut the lead to 14 points before intermission, it look like MSU was about to cruise to an easy victory.

However, Texas A&M would make it interesting in the second half. Jake Hubenak came off the bench to replace an injured Trevor Knight, and provided the Aggie offense with a much-needed spark. The A&M passing game had no trouble moving the ball in the second half, as Hubenak completed 11 of 17 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

Yet, it wasn’t enough to win this contest. Although Mississippi State did give up some yards in the second half, it came up with the plays it needed to in order to win the game. A&M had a first-and-goal on the first drive of the second half, but the Bulldog defense – highlighted by a huge hit by Mark McLaurin for a sack on third down – limited the Aggies to a field goal try. Texas A&M missed that kick, which kept the margin at 14 heading into the fourth quarter.

Of course, the Mississippi State defense would come up with an even bigger stop on the final drive of the game, picking off Hubenak at midfield on a tipped pass, which ended any hope of an Aggie comeback.

Let’s be honest: the win over Texas A&M proves that the Bulldogs still have a chance to make a bowl game this year. Sure, MSU has to travel to Alabama next week, but it closes the season with Arkansas and Ole Miss, which are a combined 2-7 in SEC play. Although neither of those contests will be a walk in the park, they’re certainly easier than beating the No. 4 team in the country.

Regardless of how the Bulldogs fare over the final three games of the season, this victory ought to end speculation about whether or not Dan Mullen will return to Starkville in 2017. Even though he’s the only coach in Mississippi State’s 112-year history to guide the team to back-to-back nine-win seasons, many people called for Mullen’s head after the team got off to a poor start this year. However, today we saw a young — but talented — team grow up right in front of our eyes. That should leave no doubt that the school is heading in the right direction, and that Mullen is the guy to lead the program to an SEC championship.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.

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