At a postgame press conference in the depths of Tiger Stadium last year, I witnessed a usually stoic Joe Moorhead left fuming by the performance of his offense.
Mississippi State had just lost a 19-3 game to LSU in which its defense only allowed one touchdown on a 3-yard drive after the first of four interceptions thrown by Nick Fitzgerald that night.
Fitzgerald completed just 8 of 24 passes for 59 yards in that game and Moorhead was frustrated and embarrassed that his offense – which had a proven track record – wasn’t working the way he wanted it to.
The offense remained inconsistent for much of Moorhead’s first season, scoring seven or fewer points four times. MSU quarterbacks completed just 51.1 percent of their passes on the year and Fitzgerald had more carries (221) than the Bulldogs’ top two tailbacks combined (Kylin Hill 117, Aeris Williams 85).
However through two games this season, things seem to be much different. State has maintained balance between its running and passing game and new quarterback Tommy Stevens seems to have made all the difference.
The Bulldogs have rushed for 471 yards and thrown for 412 to open the 2019 campaign with Stevens connecting on 72.5 percent of his passes and only 17 carries compared to Hill’s 41 rushing attempts.
This column isn’t intended to knock Fitzgerald. He had a remarkable career and left Mississippi State with numerous school records and is the SEC’s all-time leader in rushing yardage by a quarterback.
Fitzgerald had big shoes to fill and did an admirable job in doing so and is now getting a shot in the NFL with the Buccaneers.
But Fitzgerald never really seemed to fit Moorhead’s system. It happens. And it’s happened before, even since I’ve been on the MSU beat. Tyler Russell wasn’t right for Dan Mullen’s offense and Omarr Conner didn’t connect in Sylvester Croom’s West Coast playbook.
Stevens seems to be the perfect match for Moorhead. But after all, he should be. Stevens was recruited to play in that offense under Moorhead at Penn State and has essentially spent his entire collegiate career working in it whereas Fitzgerald mastered Mullen’s offense for 4 ½ years only to have an entirely new playbook thrown at him in his final season.
Stevens also has more options to work with at wide receiver with the additions of JaVonta Payton and Isaiah Zuber to go along with the maturation of Osirus Mitchell, Stephen Guidry, Austin Williams and Deddrick Thomas in the offense.
While I believe Moorhead’s offense is still a work in progress at Mississippi State, you can see the growth it has made from Year 1 to Year 2 and you get glimpses – like Stevens completing his first nine passes last weekend and Hill running roughshod when he gets an opportunity – of how good it can be when its clicking.
If Moorhead can get those glimpses to occur more and more frequently then those unpleasant postgame press conference experiences will be a thing of the past.