This story is part of an 11-week breakdown BamaOnLine is doing of every game on Alabama’s 2019 schedule (sorry, Western Carolina). We begin with the last game on the Crimson Tide’s regular-season slate in the Auburn Tigers and count down to the season-opening foe, Duke.
Here is a quick look at the key storylines surrounding Mississippi State ahead of the 2019 season.
Nick Fitzgerald just wrapped up rookie minicamp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won’t be returning to Starkville, Miss., as the Bulldogs’ quarterback this season. So, following three years of Fitzgerald behind center, Mississippi State will have a new starting quarterback this fall, but head coach Joe Moorhead will have some options to work with, including Keytaon Thompson, who is 2-0 as a starter with 18 career touchdowns. There are also true freshman Garrett Shrader and redshirt freshman Jalen Mayden -- the younger brother of Alabama safety Jared Mayden.
“I said in our team meeting (on Day 1 of spring) that depth charts are written in pencil, not pen for a reason,” Moorhead said. “Certainly, KT is the incumbent. He is the returner with the most experience and has played in games so he is in the catbird seat. But, Jalen and Garrett are going to get those opportunities to compete, and we will go through 15 practices and see where we are.”
Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens could also choose to join the quarterback mix in Starkville.
Mississippi State was one of three college football teams with three now-former players selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft last month. The other two? Alabama and Clemson. Three members of the Bulldogs’ 2018 defense were taken in the first 32 picks in defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat and safety Johnathan Abram. Those three players were cornerstones of an MSU defense that was tops in the SEC last season, leading the league in rushing defense (95.08 ypg), passing defense (168.0 ypg), scoring defense (13.2 ppg) and total defense (263.1 ypg).
State defensive lineman Gerri Green was also drafted in the sixth round, and with Braxton Hoyett graduating, MSU will have to replace all four starters along its defensive line, as well as three departing seniors in the secondary. It will be up to All-SEC performers like linebacker Erroll Thompson and cornerback Cameron Dantzler to replace the production and leadership that left the Bulldog defense.
Like Alabama, Moorhead and Mississippi State saw quite a bit of staff turnover after the 2018 campaign. The Bulldogs tabbed five new assistant coaches after the season in tight ends coach Tony Hughes, running backs coach Terry Richardson, wide receivers coach Michael Johnson, defensive line coach Deke Adams and linebackers coach Chris Marve. State also welcomed a new strength and conditioning coach in Cory Bichey, who served in an assistant strength coach role a year ago.
Two of the coaches that left the State program are now in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in running backs coach Charles Huff and defensive line coach Brian Baker. They were two of the seven new coaches that joined Nick Saban’s staff as he looked to add more experience to his lineup of coaches at Alabama after his team was unable to close out the 2018 season with an undefeated record.
“He’s a great coach, tremendously great coach,” defensive lineman Raekwon Davis said of Baker. “His technique is unbelievable, the things he helps us do. He pushes us, motivates us. He sets a high standard for us. There’s no lolly-gagging about nothing with Coach Baker.”
*** Stay tuned for more on Alabama’s Game 11 opponent throughout the week.
Contact Charlie Potter by 247Sports' personal messaging or on Twitter (@Charlie_Potter).
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