While Dak Prescott prepares for his first game as the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are getting ready to kick off their first season without No. 15 behind center.
Prescott became one of the top five most prolific passers in Southeastern Conference history during his career at MSU and finding his replacement has been Dan Mullen’s toughest task this offseason.
If anything is certain, it’s that Mullen is the man to get the Bulldogs over the loss of Prescott. His starting quarterbacks in his first seven years were Tyson Lee, Chris Relf and Prescott — all three of which were three-star recruits — who all left their mark on MSU’s record books.
Mullen mentioned Monday that he still hasn’t settled on a quarterback between junior Damian Williams and sophomore Nick Fitzgerald for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kick against South Alabama.
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“I was hoping to have complete clarity in there being a definite No. 1, and I don’t think there is one yet,” Mullen said. “I don’t want to say ‘This guy is going to be the guy,’ and series two another guy comes in and plays better and mess it up that way. I plan on us playing more than one in the first quarter.”
Williams, Fitzgerald and redshirt freshman Nick Tiano were all listed on the depth chart at the beginning of the week with an “or” between the group. Mullen later narrowed it down to Williams and Fitzgerald, the two players with experience on the roster.
After redshirting a year ago, Williams hopes to win the job. He played immediately as a true freshman winning the ball game for the Bulldogs in overtime at Arkansas on a 25-yard touchdown run after Tyler Russell went down with an injury.
He got his first start in the 2013 Egg Bowl but Dak Prescott took over completely in 2014.
Fitzgerald was Prescott’s backup a year ago and rushed 23 times for 137 yards and three touchdowns while throwing three more scoring strikes on 11-for-14 passing for 235 yards.
“I know with Damian, he had to start in a tough situation as a freshman. Fitzgerald last year played a bunch,” Mullen said. “I think both of those guys have been thrown into tough situations, and both performed well in the situations they got thrown into. I want to give the guys an opportunity and see how they are going to perform on Saturday.”
Ploy or not?
While many believe it to be a ploy by Mullen to keep his opponent from game-planning for his QB, count his players among those he’s keeping it from. Even All-SEC wide receiver Fred Ross is in for a surprise Saturday as he starts his senior year.
After breaking the school record with 88 catches a season ago and going over 1,000 yards receiving, he doesn’t really care who the person will be throwing him the ball. He’s built chemistry with both players and expects big things out of them.
“I have no idea,” Ross said of the quarterback situation. “It’s going to be fun to see. They’re so similar and that’s why it’s hard to make a decision, I guess. Both of those guys are great quarterbacks and good people.”
As for the opponent, Mullen thinks there will be some of the same concerns as they come into Game 1. South Alabama enters the game losing their entire starting defensive line to injury and many new faces across the board.
“We are playing an excellent football team,” Mullen said. “I think they have some questions that we have with a new quarterback starting. They have a veteran receiver back, a veteran tailback. There are a lot of similarities between the two teams.
“I know that we have some defensive injuries and they have suffered a couple of defensive injuries during camp. I know Joey (Jones) does a great job with that team and how he’s built that program up. It should be an exciting game on Saturday.”