Mississippi State’s offense will certainly have a different feel to it in 2016.
For the first time in five years, the Bulldogs will be without the services of Dak Prescott, leaving four quarterbacks to battle for the starting job beginning in the spring.
MSU got a preview of just how tight the competition will be during the first five bowl practices as Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams, Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano took all of the reps with Prescott sitting out.
“The more reps you get obviously the more confident you are,” said MSU quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. “It’s good for these guys to get out there and get acclimated with their timing and understanding what we’re trying to get done and going out there and performing at a consistent level.”
Fitzgerald, a redshirt freshman, received a majority of the first-team reps during those practices and served as Prescott’s primary backup this season. He appeared in seven games completing 11 of 14 passes for 235 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while adding 127 yards rushing and three more scores.
“I think he’s a guy right now that getting to watch how Dak does stuff has really I think learned during the season how to prepare the right way,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen. “I think he’s done a pretty good job in these practices being ready to step into the role and understanding how important that role is to the team. Not just that you go out there and do your job, but the leadership, all the other things that go along with being the quarterback.”
The 6-foot-5, 227-pounder is already looking forward to the spring and getting his chance to win the starting signal-caller spot.
“Competition breeds the best out of everyone,” Fitzgerald said. “I told Dak the other day I was happy for the year that he’s had but I’m kind of ready for him to get on out of here because it’s someone else’s time to try and fill those shoes. There’s no doubt those are huge, huge shoes to fill, but whoever wins it is going to be the best.”
Williams is the only returning quarterback with starting experience, having started the 2013 Egg Bowl as a true freshman. The 6-foot-1, 228-pounder is now a junior but was forced to redshirt this season with a torn labrum.
Williams has played in a dozen games, completing 37 of 70 passes for 434 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing 53 times for 175 yards and another score.
Staley is a 6-foot-6, 248-pound southpaw who appeared in two games as a redshirt freshman this fall. He completed 3 of 5 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
“Just being out there and having fun gave me a lot of confidence going into spring as I try to fight for that position,” Staley said.
Staley split time between bowl practice and basketball, where he plays power forward.
Tiano, a 6-foot-4, 231-pounder, redshirted this season as a true freshman. He accounted for 2,819 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior.