Mississippi State’s offense has been up and down all season. This sort of thing is to be expected when you’re replacing a quarterback of the magnitude of Dak Prescott. And living in the shadow of Prescott has exacerbated some of Nick Fitzgerald’s struggles for a lot of fans.
It’s no secret that Fitzgerald has struggled passing this season. He’s completed 55.9% of his passes for 1079 yards with 5.8 yards per attempt. Add in that he’s only thrown 9 touchdowns and has 5 interceptions and you get a very mediocre set of stats passing wise. And the game against Kentucky was a microcosm of the entire season up to this point with his passing performances. 13 passes completed out of 21 attempted for a grand total of 81 yards along with one touchdown and a pick six is enough to make anybody cringe.
But Fitzgerald has a lot of potential. He’s 6’5” and 230 pounds and is under the tutelage of Dan Mullen. His running ability is one of the best among quarterbacks in the nation. He still looks very much like a run first quarterback, but that’s something that this team can build upon.
Mullen’s offenses traditionally revolve around a strong running game that heavily relies upon a quarterback’s running ability. And Fitzgerald’s stature and skill set make him perfect for this offense. When the offense had success against Kentucky, it was on the ground with an option running scheme. The Bulldogs were able to incorporate a handful of other athletes into the running game through this as well.
While Fitzgerald was the leading rusher with 16 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns, Malik Dear certainly made his presence known on Saturday evening. Dear totaled 77 yards and a touchdown off of 5 carries, including one that went for 45 yards. Aeris Williams, Ashton Shumpert, and Nick Gibson also all had solid impacts and combined for 87 yards on 15 carries.
The offense needs to be revolve around Fitzgerald’s running ability until he develops more as a passer. Utilizing the stable of backs through option runs can compliment Fitzgerald’s strengths. Incorporating more run-pass option plays that have become popular through most spread offense will allow Fitzgerald to throw comfortably while also continuing to give him the chance to do damage on the ground where he is more dangerous.
When the offense was clicking on Saturday, it was when Fitzgerald was running well and had plenty of support from Dear, Williams, Shumpert, and Gibson. Using this group, along with Holloway once he’s healthy, as the primary source of offense with passing as a secondary weapon should provide some stability on offense. And, of course, as Justin Strawn says, #alwaysrunneverpass
Always run, never pass.— Justin Strawn (@JStrawnFWtCT) October 23, 2016
Again, always run, never pass. https://t.co/bilDTM3BZg— Justin Strawn (@JStrawnFWtCT) October 23, 2016