Tommy Stevens named Mississippi State starting QB. Here's why.
STARKVILLE – As was the case for the last three seasons, a quarterback wearing No. 7 will lead the Mississippi State Bulldogs onto the field on Saturdays.
It won't be Nick Fitzgerald, who played his last game in maroon and white in January. It'll be graduate transfer Tommy Stevens.
Head coach Joe Moorhead announced Stevens as his starting quarterback Thursday at Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex.
Stevens and junior Keytaon Thompson battled from the onset of training camp, which began on Aug. 2. The competition was stiff, according to coaches and players. Ultimately, Stevens separated himself from Thompson in the latter stages of camp.
"We said the decision making was going to come down to who could create explosive plays, who could minimize turnovers and who could throw the ball with the best accuracy in a consistent manner," Moorhead said. "Tommy jumped out of the gates strong at the beginning of camp closing into the first scrimmage."
Former Penn State QB knows Mississippi State system well
Moorhead said Thompson "closed the gap" after having a "real nice first scrimmage," but Stevens regained the reins in the battle the rest of the way. Moorhead would not share training camp statistics for Stevens and Thompson, but he said the gap was "significant enough" to confidently name Stevens his starter.
Stevens served as Trace McSorley's backup at Penn State for three seasons. Moorhead was the Nittany Lions' offensive coordinator for two of them. Stevens arrived in Starkville with an extensive understanding of the team's offensive scheme, and it has showed in training camp.
Penn State's system more or less stayed the same even when Moorhead left for Mississippi State.
"Being a quarterback in essentially year four, if you want to call it that, you can hit the ground running and not have to go in somewhere and have to learn something completely new," Moorhead said.
Stevens said at MSU Media Day on Aug. 10 that he was having the best training camp of his career.
"Overall, I think I've done a really good job," Stevens said. "The offense in general has been really good, really explosive. I'm excited to continue to evolve and keep getting better every day."
Tommy Stevens stats
Stevens has never started a collegiate game, but he saw the field quite a bit at Penn State. He rushed for 506 yards at 6.7 yards per carry. He had eight touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 14 passes for 62 yards and two scores.
Stevens is a proven athlete but an unproven passer at this level. He's only attempted 41 throws. He completed 24 of them (58.5 percent) for 304 yards and four touchdowns.
Still, Moorhead believes Stevens' strength is his arm. Moorhead has given the former finalist for Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year a chance to build on his passing numbers and show what he can do as a starting quarterback in the SEC.
Moorhead will tailor the offense to Stevens' strong suits, meaning the Bulldogs will look a lot different when they have the ball this year compared to last year when Fitzgerald, the SEC's all-time leading rusher for a quarterback, was behind center.
"We're going to build it around what the kids do well," Moorhead said. "For us to be able to take the next step offensively, we need to strike a balance in the run in the pass game. I think Tommy, his arm strength, his ability to read and his accuracy is going to allow us to take that positive step forward in the pass game."
The Bulldogs start the season against the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns on Aug. 31.
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