Mississippi State was not necessarily in the market for a quarterback this offseason but the Bulldogs did make a run at two of the top graduate transfers at the position.
MSU missed out on Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, who ultimately transferred to Missouri, but was able to land former Penn State signal caller Tommy Stevens. Stevens was in line to be the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback this fall but abruptly announced his departure from Penn State following spring practices.
“It wasn’t necessarily that we were looking for a quarterback as much as we were looking for a way to upgrade our talent level and upgrade our roster,” said MSU coach Joe Moorhead. “We were involved with (Bryant) prior to Tommy and we ended up not getting him, he went somewhere else.
“Any position where we think we have a chance to make our team better, we explore those options.”
Stevens is not guaranteed the starting job in Starkville either. He will enter fall camp in a highly contested battle with Keytaon Thompson, a junior that is 2-0 as a starter for the Bulldogs.
Freshmen Jalen Mayden and Garrett Shrader will also continue to compete for reps at the position but Stevens and Thompson are the front runners to fill the shoes of three-year starter Nick Fitzgerald.
“Everyone is involved in the competition just like at every other position but conventional wisdom dictates that a guy who is in his fifth year and a guy who is in his third year and has played in some games are going to be the primary contenders,” Moorhead said.
The attribute that Moorhead will be looking for the most is how accurate Stevens and Thompson are in the passing game. Stevens — a 6-foot-5, 235-pounder — has completed 24 of 41 passes (58.5 percent) for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in his career while Thompson — a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder — has connected on 50 of 105 throws (47.6 percent) for 846 yards, eight TDs and three picks.
Both players are proven runners with Stevens rushing 76 times for 506 yards and eight touchdowns and Thompson gaining 672 yards on 99 attempts and 10 TDs on the ground.
“The thing that I’m looking for in this competition is the guy who throws the ball with the most accuracy,” Moorhead said. “When you look at their running statistics, they both have that skill set and can beat you with their feet. What we’re looking to improve upon the most offensively is the efficiency, effectiveness and explosiveness of our pass game. We’ve got to find a guy that can make tight window throws and good decisions and balance out the offense.”
Moorhead has experience working with both signal callers. He coached Thompson last year but also spent two seasons as Stevens’ offensive coordinator at Penn State.
Moorhead wants to make a decision on a starting quarterback as soon as possible and hopes to have some clarity after a scripted scrimmage scheduled for Aug. 21, 10 days prior to MSU’s season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“You’d like to have it by the end of that scrimmage so that you can start prep the next day but I’m not going to paint myself into a corner and say necessarily that it has to be by this date,” Moorhead said. “I think when it becomes obvious to me, it becomes obvious to the team that someone has stepped up and won the job.”