Students, fans, and alumni alike have circled the 2018 Mississippi State football season for many different reasons. The dynamic duo in Nick Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams will be experienced seniors. Arguably, the best defensive line in the SEC resides in Starkville with Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat, and newcomer Chauncey Rivers. The special teams unit finally has a reliable leg in Jace Christmann. However, one play can alter a season. The Bulldogs saw a glimpse of that back in the 2017 Egg Bowl. As much as it hurts, let’s briefly set the scene.
The clock read 9:08. The normally raucous crowd at Davis Wade Stadium was quiet. It was the still the first quarter in the 2017 Egg Bowl. Starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was on the ground at the Mississippi State 28 yard line. He would not take another snap. In came a true freshman quarterback named Keytaon Thompson. Less than a year ago he was playing high school football. But on that chilly late November night in Starkville, Keytaon stepped up and became a leader. Although the Bulldogs ended up losing in a hard fought game, Keytaon showed promise.
Thompson finished the Egg Bowl by going 13/27 in the air for 195 yards with one touchdown and one interception. On the ground he ran for 121 yards and one touchdown. After a month of preparing for the bowl game Thompson carried the Bulldogs to victory. In the 2017 Taxslayer Bowl, Keytaon was 11/20 for 127 yards through the air and one interception. Although his passing statistics were pedestrian, his rushing attack did not disappoint. Keytaon rushed for 147 yards on 27 carries to go along with 3 touchdowns.
Keytaon Thompson was a highly recruited dual threat quarterback out of Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans. The No. 1 QB recruit in Louisiana led Landry Walker to its first ever Class 5A state championship. Thompson also has two state championships in basketball. One of his basketball teammates was current Mississippi State guard Lamar Peters. Keytaon is already a proven winner at the high school level.
But will his previous success translate to the SEC? In the Egg Bowl, Keytaon played valiantly but ultimately lost by a mere 3 points in a game where it seemed nothing could go right for the Bulldogs. In his first collegiate start Thompson out-dueled Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and torched a middle of the pack ACC team. New Coach Joe Moorhead turned a 3 star Penn State recruit in Trace McSorley into a precision passer. And McSorley is nowhere near the runner that Thompson is. With development from another great offensive mind, the ceiling is high for Keytaon. Coach Moorhead has been fortunate to inherit 2 capable quarterbacks. Not many teams in the country can be confident in both a starter and backup. But with Keytaon one play away from significant playing time, the Bulldogs can rest assured that Thompson is up to the task.