STARKVILLE • Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead hoped the Bulldogs’ quarterback battle would sort itself out following the third fall scrimmage on Wednesday.
And it did.
Moorhead announced on Thursday afternoon that graduate transfer Tommy Stevens “has earned the right” to be MSU’s starting signal caller for the upcoming season over junior Keytaon Thompson.
“For us to take the next step offensively, we need to strike a chord of balance between the run and the pass game,” Moorhead said. “I think Tommy’s arm strength, ability to read and his accuracy is going to allow us to take that positive step forward in the passing game.”
Stevens arrived in Starkville over the summer after transferring from Penn State. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder from Indianapolis, Indiana, appeared in 23 games for the Nittany Lions the past three seasons completing 24 of 41 passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, while rushing 76 times for 506 yards and eight more scores. He also caught 14 passes for 62 yards and two TDs.
Stevens was familiar with Moorhead’s offense from their time together at State College while Moorhead was the offensive coordinator in 2016-17.
“I think being a quarterback in essentially Year 4 (playing in this offense), you can hit the ground running instead of going somewhere and having to learn something completely new,” Moorhead said. “It made the transition a lot quicker.”
Stevens and Thompson have similar builds and posted comparable rushing statistics throughout their careers so Moorhead made it clear to both quarterbacks the main factors he would be looking at were which one could create explosive plays, minimize turnovers and throw the ball with the best accuracy in a consistent manner.
Moorhead declined to reveal what the completion percentages were for Stevens and Thompson during fall practice but stated “it was significant enough for us to make a decision.”
Moorhead met with Stevens and Thompson individually on Thursday before letting the team know his decision. Thompson was naturally disappointed he did not win the job.
“I wouldn’t say he took it well, but he certainly understood what the process was,” Moorhead said. “He certainly understood what the decision-making criteria was. He wants to be the starter like anybody else but he also understood that we have a job to do and a decision to make and what we based it off of. He respected that.”
Thompson has posted a 2-0 record as a starter and played the past two seasons behind Nick Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from New Orleans has connected on 50 of 105 throws for 846 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions over his career while rushing 99 times for 672 yards and 10 more scores.
“We’re certainly excited about what K.T. did and how he performed,” Moorhead said. “He’s going to be an incredibly valuable asset for us and are going to need him to win a game for us this year.”