Mississippi State featured arguably the best defense in school history last season. Not only did the results on the field back that up, but defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was honored as a Frank Broyles Award finalists following his unit’s outstanding efforts. Three individuals from that defense also just heard their name called in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for Hail State fans, Joe Moorhead’s offense didn’t live up to its end of the bargain in several key conference games, as the team finished with a 4-4 league record and an overall 8-5 record after falling in the Outback Bowl to Iowa. The program’s new head coach arrived from Penn State during the previous offseason with the reputation as one of the game’s best offensive minds but the results never consistently materialized his first season in Starkville.
While that’s an accurate assessment, according to ESPN college football analyst Tom Luginbill, much of that blame likely falls on the shoulders of Nick Fitzgerald, not Moorhead. During a recent radio interview with Birmingham-based WJOX 94.5 FM program, “The Roundtable,” Luginbill offered up his take on why Mississippi State’s offense was limited at times last season and why there is hope that things will be different next fall.
“I think with Keytaon Thompson they are going to be much more diverse in the things that Joe Moorhead really wants to do,” Luginbill said on the show. “I think what happened to Joe Moorhead and his offensive staff last year, they felt like they could come in and do the things they did at Penn State, do the things that Trace McSorley did, and then found out very quickly that Nick Fitzgerald was very, very limited. He was limited in terms of the ability to process how quickly things went through his head and the clock went off, the ability to throw the ball down the field consistently and accurately.
“So they really had to become something that was tailored around Nick Fitzgerald that I don’t think Joe Moorhead wanted to be but he had to adapt and he had to adjust because those were the cards he was dealt. We had them three times and I thought after the first time, I literally came away, Greg McElroy and I came away (believing), ‘They may have to make a change at quarterback.’ I mean, that’s how glaring it was on that particular day.”
What likely compounded those issues for Fitzgerald and the offense was the fact that the quarterback suffered a significant injury in the 2017 Egg Bowl. Due to his lengthy rehab following his gruesome injury, Fitzgerald missed all of MSU’s spring practice when the team began to learn and incorporate Moorhead’s offense on the field. That lost time was likely critical in Fitzgerald’s development and understanding of the offense and never fully materialized by the time he was cleared entering fall camp.
So that’s how Luginbill perceives last season’s offensive issues in Starkville but as for the upcoming season, the ESPN college football analyst believes the team’s new quarterback should give Hail State fans plenty of reason for optimism.
“I think Keytaon Thompson gives them much more ability to create explosive plays in the passing game. He’s every bit the runner that Nick Fitzgerald is, you can do the things you want to do in the run game, and they are an RPO-based offense,” Luginbill offered up. “Run, pass, option is what Joe Moorhead wants to be. I think they will be more comfortable with Thompson than they were with Fitzgerald in that area, too.”
With MSU returning plenty of experience and talent on defense, if Moorhead’s offense does get rolling in Year 2, don’t be surprised if the SEC’s biggest surprise in 2019 hails from Starkville.