STARKVILLE • Mississippi State has yet to name a starting quarterback, but that is not a surprise to coach Joe Moorhead.
The battle between Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens and junior Keytaon Thompson continues in practice and Moorhead believes the Bulldogs’ offense is better because of it.
“I think it’s progressing nicely,” Moorhead said. “I think the battle has elevated the urgency and the execution of the entire unit. We grade and evaluate every snap and chart everything that they do. I think it’s headed at about the pace that we anticipated.”
Stevens and Thompson have been alternating reps with the first team offense in practice and on Saturday night participated in the first of three planned scrimmages prior to MSU’s season opener against Louisiana in New Orleans on Aug. 31.
“The scrimmage portion will play a role but it’s not the only measuring stick,” Moorhead said. “It’s completion percentage, touchdown to interception ratio, explosive plays created and how the team is rallying around them. The scrimmage will play a big part but you really want their body of work to paint the picture.”
Both Stevens and Thompson are considered dual-threat quarterbacks. Stevens has averaged 6.7 yards and scored eight rushing touchdowns during his career while Thompson has rushed for a 6.8 yard average and 10 scores during his two seasons.
“They’re both showing that they can run the ball capably,” Moorhead said. “Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to which of those two throw the ball the best.”
Stevens has completed 58.5 percent of his career passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception while Thompson has hit on 47.6 percent of his throws for 846 yards, eight TDs and three picks.
The Bulldogs’ 2019 recruiting class was ranked 24th by 247Sports.com and several members of that class are already making their presence known early on in fall camp.
“I think (quarterback Garrett) Shrader has made some really nice strides,” Moorhead said. “Technically he was a mid-year guy but he’s stepped up his game the past few practices and done a really nice job. Lee Witherspoon is getting a lot of reps at running back. (Offensive lineman) Nick Pendley has stood out with his motor and physicality.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Moorhead mentioned defensive linemen Nathan Pickering, De’Monte Russell and Jack Harris and defensive backs Martin Emerson and Jarrian Jones are players that have stood out.
“At different times it’s been different guys stepping up,” Moorhead said. “Their reps are limited right now because of depth and getting used to the speed of the game but during the course of seven practices, they’ve all had their moments.”
There is no shortage of area talent throughout State’s roster.
In fact, the Bulldogs have seven scholarship players from the Golden Triangle alone. Running back Kylin Hill and offensive guard LaQuinston Sharp are Columbus products, defensive back Marcus Murphy hails from West Point while linebacker Willie Gay Jr., wide receiver Cameron Gardner, defensive end Kobe Jones and offensive guard Kameron Jones are homegrown Starkville talents.
“Very few players at the high school level have the opportunity to play Division I football, let alone in the SEC, SEC West and for the team they grew up rooting for,” Moorhead said. “For those guys to be able to stay at home in front of family and friends and have them share in the experience of their college football journey and show other kids from around the area and around the state that you don’t have to go anywhere to achieve all your goals and dreams, I think that’s what makes it special for those guys.”