Mississippi State

Mississippi State still looking to answer QB question

ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS 
 Mississippi State quarterbacks Nick Fitzgerald, left, and Damian Williams, middle, are duking it out with Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano to replace Dak Prescott, right, as the Bulldogs' starter.
ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS Mississippi State quarterbacks Nick Fitzgerald, left, and Damian Williams, middle, are duking it out with Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano to replace Dak Prescott, right, as the Bulldogs' starter. AP

When Mississippi State fans flock to Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday to get a glimpse of the 2016 edition of their football team there will be a pretty big piece missing from the puzzle.

That, of course, is All-SEC and record-setting quarterback Dak Prescott, who spent the last three years as MSU's signal caller and the last two springs as the unquestioned leader of the team.

Now, there's a large question mark at the most important position and the Maroon-White spring game will go a long way in answering some of those questions. So far this spring, no one has emerged.

"(Saturday) will be good on a big stage," head coach Dan Mullen said. "One of the most important things is it puts pressure on the young guys on a big stage. People are looking and they're not the backup. One of those guys is going to be the starter so it's going to be fun to see them play at a high level."

The good news for the Bulldogs is the options they have at the position to fill the void left by Prescott and his playmaking ability. Sophomores Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley seem to be the favorites to earn the most playing time and Fitzgerald is in his third spring as a Bulldog with a leg up in reps on Staley.

While both possess the skill set needed for MSU's spread offense and have the frame to be factors, Staley might be the most physically impressive quarterback Mullen has had on campus. At 6-foot-7, Staley tried his hand at balancing basketball and football for the Bulldogs before hanging up his basketball shoes earlier this year.

Now, the talented sophomore is completely focused on taking the job away from Fitzgerald, redshirt freshman Nick Tiano and junior Damian Williams.

"I am actually a lot more focused now," Staley said. "I usually just said I want to do this sport and do this and that. But now I watch a lot of film and focus on what I have to do. I just want to perfect my craft.

"I want to keep being consistent with the basic things, the little things, this offseason. I can do all of the crazy, 65-yard deep ball but I want to focus on my spot throws and the little throws that I am very inconsistent with at times."

Where are the WRs?

The transition without Prescott hasn't been easy and it was made even more challenging when MSU's top returning receiver Fred Ross was ruled out for the spring with an injury.

That news was followed soon by rising junior receiver Donald Gray's setback. With the loss of De'Runnya Wilson to the NFL and the recent news of senior Fred Brown's dismissal from the university, those quarterbacks had to turn to young, inexperienced receivers.

Mullen saw a group last week that performed at a high level and they're earning their stripes. With experienced players out this spring, it might be the perfect opportunity for redshirt freshmen Keith Mixon, Deddrick Thomas and Jonnas Spivey.

"They did a good job. They're guys that are taking big steps forward," Mullen said of the wide outs. "I think Keith (Mixon) has had an unbelievable spring. All of those guys are taking giant steps forward because now they have that time to really learn."

While there are still a good five months until the toe meets leather at Davis Wade, Saturday will be a solid gauge of just what Bulldog fans can expect. One thing is for certain, all eyes will be on the quarterbacks and they're welcoming that challenge.

As Staley pointed out, whoever takes home the job deserves it because of the work the crew has put in.

"We're all trying to help each other and get things done against the defense" Staley said. "It's a lot of competition but everyone is going hard. We are all trying to make each other better at the end of the day."

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