Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald threw four interceptions in the first half of Saturday’s Maroon and White Game. It was just a spring game, but has to leave some concern for coaches who wanted Fitzgerald’s arm to catch up with his legs. Here are 10 observations from the Maroon and White Game, which ended with a brutal hit from Jonathan Abram on Bennie Braswell.
1. Fitzgerald led the SEC in total yards in 2016. His passing game left things to be desired though, one of five SEC quarterbacks to throw double-digit picks. Saturday, he started only 2 of 5 passing with two picks. DB Jamal Peters’ pick came on a ball Fitzgerald’s receiver couldn’t get to. Cameron Dantzler’s 81-yard pick-6 came when Fitzgerald threw it to the wrong shoulder of his receiver.
His throws got better at times and the green jersey obviously hurt his game as it took away the run. But there is plenty of room for improvement.
2. Freshman QB Keytaon Thompson started for the White team and got a couple of early completions to get comfortable. He had overthrows and underthrows and struggled after a good start. Early, the early graduate didn’t look a guy who technically should still be in high school and showed flashes of what he can be.
3. The Bulldogs are going to need someone to step up and fill the shoes of receiver Fred Ross, the best receiver in school history. Reggie Todd made an early case with the first two catches from Thompson. The 6-4, 205-pound freshman caught his third pass to break up and 0-for-3 streak Thompson was in.
4. Jace Christmann is a freshman, but Mississippi State fans have seen enough missed field goals and likely won’t excuse it. The Bulldogs were next-to-last in field goals last season, making only 13 of 19. Christmann missed from 26 yards on the White team’s first possession. Brad Wall missed from 41 yards later in the quarter.
5. Not to beat the dead horse, but Fitzgerald threw a third interception before the half. New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham dropped 6-4, 304-pound defensive tackle Deion Pope under coverage. Fitzgerald threw it right to him. Fitzgerald threw a fourth pick, another to Dantzler on an underthrown ball in the end zone. He almost had a fifth, as Lashard Durr just didn’t catch it. Good signs for the defense, not for Fitzgerald.
6. Peters only had 18 tackles last season, but did have a couple of interceptions. He broke up a Fitzgerald pass a possession after his interception. Peters was the top recruit in the state in 2015. He is due to become the star of the secondary this fall. The Bulldogs were 120th in the country in pass defense last season.
7. The Bulldogs are working a new center, as Martinas Rankin moved down the offensive line to try his hand this spring. He isn’t the only candidate and had one bad snap that never got off the ground in the first half. If anything, the versatility will pay off.
8. In Fitzgerald’s defense, a pass after the fourth pick, Deddrick Thomas just didn’t catch a deep ball his quarterback put on the money. It also did not help that leading returning receiver Donald Gray, as well as dynamic receivers Keith Mixon and Malik Dear were held out.
9. The Bulldogs hauled in a coup of junior college guys. Brian Cole was one of them and showed the impact those guys can have. Cole, a former Michigan Wolverine, was the No. 1-ranked safety coming out of East Mississippi. He had a nice breakup and ran down a reverse on back-to-back plays and had a 52-yard pick-6 in the third quarter.
10. Aeris Williams will be the guy at running back but sophomore Nick Gibson made a strong case as his backup. Gibson had 11 carries for 72 yards in the first half. He looked good laterally and running downhill.