Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TaxSlayer Bowl Notebook; Fitzgerald Knew Injury Was Bad

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TaxSlayer Bowl Notebook; Fitzgerald Knew Injury Was Bad

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits

Nick Fitzgerald knew something was wrong before he hit the turf at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., 36 days ago.

Mississippi State's junior quarterback rolled out to his left on a designed run in the first quarter of the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, and was hit high by defensive end Breeland Speaks and low by linebacker DeMarquis Gates. Fitzgerald's right leg got tangled between the two bodies and in one of the more gruesome injuries of the 2017 college football season, his ankle was dislocated, turning 90 degrees to the right.

"I felt it happen as I was falling," Fitzgerald said on Thursday at the University of North Florida following the Bulldogs' final practice of the week before the TaxSlayer Bowl, where they will face Louisville on Saturday at EverBank Field. "I kind of knew something was wrong, then I looked down and saw it, and it hit me at once. A lot of pain and a lot of emotion."

A magical season for Fitzgerald was over. The quarterback that only two Football Bowl Subdivision coaches wanted (Dan Mullen at MSU and Rick Stockstill at Middle Tennessee) got the Bulldogs to eight victories and the program's eighth consecutive bowl game, finishing with 1,782 yards and 15 touchdown passes, and 984 rushing yards, and 14 TDs.

"It's been difficult," he said in his first media availability since the injury. "I'm competitive and I hate sitting out anything. Injuries happen, and for what happened, it could have been a lot worse. It sucks not playing but I'm going to help my out out the best I can."

CARDS' DEFENSE IMPROVES

No matter what magic Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson worked on offense, the Cardinals defense seemed determined to un-do it.

Louisville was 5-4 through the first nine games of the season and gave up 28 or more points seven times, and 35 or more five times.

That included losses of 47-21 loss to Clemson, 39-25 to N.C. State, 45-42 loss Boston College and 42-32 to Wake Forest. Louisville was giving up 30.7 points per game following the loss to the Deacons.

But the Cardinals have given up an average of only 16 points during a three-game winning streak to end the regular season and held Syracuse, which had been one of the ACC's top-scoring teams, to 10 points. …

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