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Nick Fitzgerald is Already Dan Mullen’s Second Best Quarterback at Mississippi State

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Mississippi State Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not hard to figure out who the best quarterback Dan Mullen has had here in Starkville actually is. He was a once in a lifetime sort of player, and his name is Dak Prescott. He scribbled his name all over Mississippi State’s record books and is arguably one of the most underrated players in SEC history. And now Prescott is tearing up defenses in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.

And many were left wondering what would be next for Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs. Mississippi State had a rocky offseason when it came to finding a quarterback and there was no separation between Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams, or Nick Tiano coming into the season. When South Alabama came to town and stunned the Bulldogs, it was Damian Williams that looked comfortable, albeit limited, leading the offense, and Dan Mullen stuck with him in that game.

But it wasn’t much longer until Nick Fitzgerald would take the reins of the offense. Going into the South Carolina game, there were some questions, but coming out of it, things had cleared up about who would lead the offense. Fitzgerald completed 65.5% of his passes for 178 yards, 2 touchdowns, a pick and then ran for 195 yards at 11.5 yards per carry. Fitzgerald took the job and it was going to be his going forward.

He’s had some rough moments in his first season starting. Fitzgerald was in over his head in Baton Rouge against LSU and he looked lost at times during a three game losing streak that started with Auburn, continued with BYU, and went on with Kentucky.

Fitz has had a rough time this season developing as a passer, but he has developed considerably this season. So much so that he’s already looking like the second best quarterback that Dan Mullen has had to work with in Starkville.

During each month, we’ve seen a rise in total yards per game. So far, Mississippi State has depended more heavily upon Fitzgerald to run the ball in November, particularly the A&M and Arkansas games, and he’s seen a subsequent rise in yards gained on the ground.
From September to October, there was a large jump in the amount of both passes attempted and runs attempted per game. This is due in part to the fact that in the South Alabama game, Nick Fitzgerald attempted 3 passes and had 2 runs.
Nick Fitzgerald’s completion percentage clearly falls by month throughout the season, but a large part of that is due to the overall level of competition and the increased difficulty of playing against better teams with better defenses. Mississippi State’s opponents from September had a collective record of 19 losses and 23 wins and an average total defensive ranking of 50.5. In October (excluding Samford), MSU’s opponents had 21 wins and 12 losses and an average total defensive ranking of 48.3. November featured opponents with a record of 26 and 7 with an average ranking of 56 (A&M was ranked 81 in total defense and Arkansas was 85 while Alabama was 2).
We’ve seen Fitzgerald’s total touchdowns die down a little bit in the month of November, (due to an expected rough game against Alabama) but his rushing touchdowns have increased each month. This month’s growth is due to a phenomenal game against Arkansas where Fitz ran for 4 touchdowns.

There are two guys that could potentially make the claim for the second best quarterback to play under Mullen at Mississippi State, Tyler Russell and Chris Relf, but Russell is really the only one that could give Fitzgerald a serious run for his money here.

In his career at Mississippi State, Chris Relf completed 58 percent of his passes and threw for 3,297 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. By no stretch of the imagination was Relf a dominant passer. He wasn’t even a particularly good one.

LSU v Mississippi State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

But, for the most part, he was efficient and better than many other quarterbacks in MSU’s history. Relf also did a notable amount of damage on the ground by running for a total of 1,575 yards on just under 4 yards a carry with 9 touchdowns in his career.

During Tyler Russell’s time at MSU, Russell threw for 5,441 yards and 42 touchdowns against 23 interceptions while completing 58.7 percent of his passes. Russell’s career was a solid one, but he faced several issues throughout it.

Mississippi State v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Russell was a known pocket passer in a system that required a running quarterback to be effective. In his entire four years at Mississippi State, in 38 games, Russell ran for 117 yards on 116 carries. He had three touchdowns on the ground. In addition to that, his career was cut short due to injuries in his senior year and the emergence of Dak Prescott. But, as a whole, Russell had a solid career for the maroon and white.

However, even in their best seasons, they did not match up to what Fitzgerald has done this year. Fitzgerald has quietly had a very impressive season so far. This season is already better than each of Chris Relf’s and Tyler Russell’s best years.

When it comes to touchdowns, Nick Fitzgerald has already surpassed both of his predecessors here in both total and rushing touchdowns. Fitzgerald is behind Tyler Russell by 6 passing touchdowns, but he’s also competed in two fewer games up to this point (11 games for Fitzgerald with also only having only participated in five plays against South Alabama versus 13 games for Russell in 2012).
Fitzgerald beats out both Relf and Russell again here when it comes to running and edges both of them out in total yards as well. Fitzgerald still falls short of what Russell excelled at, passing, but his running ability more than makes up for it when it comes to gaining yards. And again, this is with two fewer games and one game included for Fitz where he recorded 5 total plays.

Fitzgerald has a long career ahead of him, and he has a lot of developing still to do. It’s very possible that he’ll continue to be inconsistent as things go forward. After all, he’s only had a limited amount of experience actually playing in games.

Fitzgerald shouldn’t have to live in the shadow of Dak Prescott, even if Dak is ultimately the standard by which all other quarterbacks at Mississippi State will be measured. Prescott was a once in a lifetime player that came through Starkville and it’s impossible to truly replace him.

But things look bright on the offensive side of the ball for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have another impressive dual threat quarterback to build the program around. Fitzgerald has talent and it looks like his ceiling is pretty high.

If Fitzgerald can continue to improve and learn from the mistakes he’s made in his first season as a starter, he’ll be able to have one hell of a career by the time it’s all said and done. Obviously, that’s all dependent upon his ability to develop and learn. But as it stands right now, it looks like Fitzgerald is the second best quarterback to play in Starkville for Dan Mullen.