Mississippi State

Mississippi State still debating on starting QB for opener

Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen isn’t ready to announce who his starting quarterback will be on Saturday against South Alabama.
Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen isn’t ready to announce who his starting quarterback will be on Saturday against South Alabama. Associated Press

With less than five days until game one of 2016, the quarterback battle at Mississippi State still rages on.

Mullen started fall camp this summer with four quarterbacks vying for the opportunity to replace legendary quarterback Dak Prescott, but that has since been narrowed down.

Sophomore Elijah Staley announced earlier in the month that he would transfer and has taken the route of junior college in Tyler, Texas. On Monday, Mullen narrowed the potential starter for game one against South Alabama down to two.

Though he admitted that Nick Fitzgerald and Damian Williams are the two competing for the start, he wasn’t ready to tip his hand.

“I see Nick Williams playing quarterback for us,” Mullen joked. “I’m waiting for the clarity for us. We’re going to play more than one quarterback and we’re probably going to play more than one in the first quarter.”

Fitzgerald has been considered the favorite to replace Prescott this season but Williams has made a move during the summer and redshirting last year. The sophomore Fitzgerald cut his teeth last season and was sharp in limited time.

Fitzgerald went 11-for-14 passing for 235 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions last season. He also showed his running ability with 137 yards on 23 carries and three more scores.

Williams played right away as a true freshman backing up Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott in 2013 and was forced into duty late in the year, leading the Bulldogs to a win on the road at Arkansas with a 25-yard rushing touchdown. He also was the starter in the 2013 Egg Bowl, a game that the Bulldogs won in the fourth quarter when Prescott came in late.

“Both of those guys have been thrust into tough situations and they’ve performed well in those situations,” Mullen said. “I want to give those guys an opportunity and see how they perform.

“Nick Tiano has a bright future but still needs a little more time. Fitz graduated early and had that extra spring on top of it to get ready so (Fitz and Damian) put themselves in position to be ready on week one.”

Mullen said that the two quarterbacks will continue to be monitored this week in practice and both will rotate between the ones and the twos.

Running back reps becoming clear

While the quarterbacks continue to battle out who gets the opening snaps, Mullen has settled on who will take hold of those reps at the running back position.

Carries will be split between seniors Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert to start the season. Both players got a large portion of the carries a season ago as Holloway carried 92 times for 413 yards and Shumpert rushed 59 times for 206 with three scores.

“We have two redshirt freshmen and they’ve done a decent job, but guys like Holloway and Shumpert are going to get the majority of the reps,” Mullen said. “If we run out of reps, you start looking at special team’s reps.”

Mullen expects sophomore Aeris Williams to be in the mix thanks to his versatility.

James status unknown

Mullen gave no formal update on former Long Beach star Nick James, who was arrested Sunday morning and charged with public intoxication at Rick’s Café in Starkville.

James was expected to be the starting nose tackle for the Bulldogs in their 3-4 alignment defensively but is not listed on the opening-week depth chart released by MSU.

“We’re going to investigate everything fully with the legal system and then make a decision,” Mullen said. “Every situation is looked at differently. Everyone makes mistakes in life, our job is to make sure that they learn from them. There’s not a rule book when it comes to discipline.”

MSU will announce any suspensions prior to the game on Saturday.

Game plan

Who: Mississippi State vs. South Alabama

When: 11 a.m., Saturday

Where: Starkville

TV: SEC Network

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