Nick Fitzgerald: The SEC's best running QB ever?
The GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is a title that has come in vogue in recent years, with discussions of legacy following shortly after nearly every impressive sports performance. How, then, could we overlook the greatness of Nick Fitzgerald, a player who is running the ball at the quarterback position in a way that the conference has never seen before?
First, let’s get a few qualifiers out of the way. No one is saying that Nick Fitzgerald belongs among the pantheon of SEC QBs like Peyton Manning and A.J. McCarron, nor that his impact on the game will rival that of a Tim Tebow, who holds the overall conference record for rushing touchdowns with 57.
1. Tim Tebow: 2,947
2. Matt Jones: 2,535
3. Dak Prescott: 2,521
4. Nick Fitzgerald: 2,486
In fact, Fitzgerald still has a long way to go if he wants to measure up to Mississippi State’s current GOAT at the QB position, Dak Prescott.
But Fitzgerald does something better than all of them, even Tebow: run the football down your throat.
Fitzgerald’s story is just so perfectly Mississippi State. Once a 3-star QB who was ranked No. 1,566 by 247Sports, he will enter his senior season in 2018 with 35/1 odds of winning the Heisman Trophy.
Former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen had this to say when asked who he had to beat out for Fitzgerald’s commitment:
— Robby Donoho III (@RobbyDonoho) November 27, 2016
Mullen was being asked about Fitzgerald because he had just single-handedly obliterated Ole Miss in the 2016 Egg Bowl. The sophomore QB set the Mississippi State single-game rushing record with 258 yards and he accounted for five total TDs.
That game was the exclamation point on a 2016 season that should be remembered forever, as Fitzgerald was essentially a one-man offense. He finished the year with 1,375 rushing yards, good enough for second in the conference – pretty impressive when the leader had the word “running” in his job title.
In 2016, Fitzgerald led the league in rushing touchdowns, and he set SEC records for 100-yard games by a QB (8), and rushing average by a QB (7.1 yards). That second one is particularly important because it shows he was not a stat machine on a bad team. Though Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel had slightly more yards in their Heisman-winning seasons (and Newton played an extra game), neither ran the ball more effectively than Fitzgerald’s 2016 campaign. No one ever has.
In fact, only four SEC quarterbacks have run for more than 1,000 yards in a single season: Newton, Manziel, Fitzgerald and Nick Marshall. When he suffered that gruesome leg injury early in the Egg Bowl last season, Fitzgerald was just 16 yards short of being the first QB in SEC history to do it twice. The dynamic runner has the highest two-season rushing total of any QB at 2,359, and his 6.5 career yards per rush sits just .1 yard behind Bo Jackson, and just ahead of names like Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb.
As great of an athlete as Prescott was, Fitzgerald is better. He was just 35 yards short of Prescott’s career rushing record by a QB at Mississippi State when he went down with nearly two full games left to play.
That’s all in the past, so let’s talk about the future.
Despite only starting for two years, Fitzgerald has a real shot a surpassing every QB in SEC history for the career rushing yards title in his third season as a full-time starter. Tebow holds the SEC record for rushing yards by a QB at 2,947. Thanks to those two seasons, each of which would’ve been a career high for Tebow, Fitzgerald sits just 461 yards off his mark.
It remains to be seen how new head coach Joe Moorhead will use Fitzgerald in the run game, but based on his resume so far, keeping him in the pocket would be a mistake. The larger point here, however, is that we as SEC fans have been witnessing greatness right under our noses, and it’s gone largely unnoticed.
Fitzgerald could retire as the leader in a stat that the likes of Tebow, Prescott, Manziel, and Matt Jones were known for, and he probably won’t get the credit he deserves.