Back in November, before the victories in the Egg Bowl and St. Petersburg Bowl, we discussed how Nick Fitzgerald was already the best quarterback not named Dak Prescott that Dan Mullen has had in Starkville.
In that article I broke down how difficult it is to replace a once in a lifetime quarterback like Dak Prescott while also discussing how Nick Fitzgerald had already become the second best quarterback that Mississippi State has seen during Dan Mullen’s tenure here. Some of y’all disagreed at the time, and though you were wrong, I was okay with it.
Today I realized that I’m not okay with it anymore.
After one full season of work as a starting quarterback in the SEC, Nick Fitzgerald has shown that he’s deserving of a ton of respect for what he can do on the field. So, let’s go through some numbers again and discuss why Fitzgerald is the second best quarterback in the Dan Mullen era, shall we?
Starting with total numbers across the careers of the two competitors for the position that I established previously. (That’d be Chris Relf and Tyler Russell, for those of y’all that didn’t read).
Starting with total touchdowns for their respective careers, Nick Fitzgerald, through 20 games played, is only two touchdowns away from tying Tyler Russell’s total number of touchdowns for his career. It took Russell 38 games to get to that mark. Relf had 37 total touchdowns in 36 games.
The yardage gap is a bit bigger, however.
Fitzgerald actually comes in third here in total yards and passing yards, while coming second in rushing yards. But, again, Fitzgerald has done this while playing in significantly fewer games than Russell and Relf.
So, to account for the discrepancy in the amount of games played, let’s get an average for both of those categories, starting with touchdowns per game participated in:
And it’s not even really close here. Fitzgerald, so far through 20 games, is averaging well over twice as many touchdowns per game as Relf and almost a full touchdown more than Russell. And that’s where the balance of his ability to throw and run comes in.
He’s able to do both very effectively. And he’s gotten a considerable amount of touchdowns in the process. And that puts Fitzgerald ahead of both Russell and Relf.
Let’s take this a step further, simply because we can. Let’s look only at games that they started in. That might tip the balance toward either Russell or Relf, right?
In the 13 games that Fitzgerald has started, he has already scored more touchdowns (37) than either Russell (31) or Relf (23) did in the 20 and 21 games they started respectively.
What about yardage? Well, it’s a little bit closer. Tyler Russell actually has a slight advantage over Fitzgerald here.
Oh wait, remember how I said that Russell and Relf each started more games? Yeah, let’s get an average for each of these numbers here too.
Clearly, as seen in all of those numbers and charts, the biggest thing that Fitzgerald has going for him is his versatility. He’s the perfect fit for Dan Mullen’s system. His ability to place the ball anywhere on the field with his arm (yeah it’s not entirely accurate, but whatever) combined with his athleticism and ability to outrun defenses gives him an incredible advantage over Russell and Relf.
Fitzgerald also has the statistical advantage of not having to split reps or time with anybody on the field. While Relf had to share time with Russell, and Russell with Relf and a guy named Dak Prescott, the only meaningful games that Fitz has split with anybody came early on in the season with Damian Williams. Even then, it didn’t really matter. He quickly set himself apart from Williams with his potential.
I wrote back in November that Fitzgerald still has a lot of growing and developing to do, and I still fully believe that. He’s not exactly the most accurate quarterback and he probably runs more than he should (though, he can still take some hits and get up given his stature).
All of that said, Fitzgerald proved in his first year that he can be a dynamic playmaker and carry a team even when he has to carry the defense too. There is no reason for anybody at this point to doubt that he’s second only to Dak when it comes to quarterbacks coached by Dan Mullen at Mississippi State.