STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Elijah Staley’s first wobbly pass in Mississippi State’s spring game on Saturday was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Damian Williams’ first throw - a shovel pass - was off the mark and fell to the ground. Nick Tiano’s first pass was tipped and then intercepted. Nick Fitzgerald’s first attempt was incomplete.
If there was ever any doubt, the four plays helped crystalize the realization that Mississippi State’s offense in the post-Dak Prescott era is still a work a progress. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said the spring game was a microcosm of the past few months - encouraging but inconsistent.
“I think everyone saw today that all of them have the ability to make plays,” Mullen said. “They can make things happen, extend plays, run the ball, scramble and make great throws.
“But they’re still learning.”
Prescott was easily the most productive quarterback in Mississippi State history, finishing with more than 9,000 yards passing and 2,500 yards rushing in his career. More importantly, he was a huge reason the Bulldogs won a combined 19 games in 2014 and ‘15.
Now there’s a four-man competition to see who replaces him. The 6-foot-5, 227-pound Fitzgerald, a sophomore, is widely considered the favorite after playing in parts of eight games last season.
Mullen didn’t give many clues about the depth chart on Saturday. Williams had the best day of the quartet - completing 14 of 20 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Fitzgerald completed 10 of 20 throws for 127 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Tiano was 8 of 13 for 99 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and Staley was 5 of 11 for 48 yards.
Fitzgerald said he had a “solid spring” and that he’s in a good position going into the summer, but still considers the race wide open. He said the competition has forced him to try and make the most of every opportunity on the field.
“If you make a mistake, that’s fine, but you definitely can’t make the same mistake twice,” Fitzgerald said.
Staley - a 6-foot-6, 248-pound sophomore - is the biggest of the four quarterbacks and even briefly played on Mississippi State’s basketball team during the winter before deciding to concentrate on football.
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Williams is a fourth-year junior who redshirted last season, but played some in both 2013 and ‘14 behind Prescott. The 6-foot-4, 231-pound Tiano is a redshirt freshman who has impressed coaches during the spring.
“I just want to get better every day and be consistent because I still have a lot to learn,” Tiano said. “You can’t have a good day and then a bad day. I want to stay on a steady slope upward and get better and better until August.”
Mississippi State quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson said the four-man quarterback race can’t last forever, but said the crowded situation during the spring was good because it forced everyone to focus.
Johnson said all four flashed enough potential that he’s confident there will be a good solution.
“I can tell you all four of them are extremely talented and can win games in the Southeastern Conference,” Johnson said.
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