Editor's note: This article is part of the Clarion Ledger’s summer series addressing questions surrounding the Mississippi State and Ole Miss football programs. Today, we take a look at the most important position battles heading into the season. Here's our answer from the Mississippi State perspective.
For the first time in nearly a decade, it's mid-summer and Mississippi State isn't set on who will start at the most important position on the field in its first game of the season.
The program hasn't had true quarterback controversy since Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott split starts during the 2013 season. And even then, Russell, a senior, was the surefire starter until an injury pushed Prescott, a sophomore, onto the field. Prescott started the next two seasons before leaving for the NFL, and Nick Fitzgerald took over for the following three.
You have to go back to the 2010 and 2011 seasons to find a situation similar to that of junior Keytaon Thompson and graduate transfer Tommy Stevens. Russell and Chris Relf battled throughout the offseason to see who would start. Thompson and Stevens are currently doing the same.
A month and a half ago, Thompson was the guy. But Stevens' transfer to the program from Penn State in mid-May has put Thompson's chances of leading the offense onto the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Aug. 31 in jeopardy.
Both players are talented runners, which essentially cancels that aspect of their arsenals out. Stevens has 506 rushing yards on 6.7 yards per carry. Thompson has 672 rushing yards on 6.8 yards per carry. Head coach Joe Moorhead isn't concerned about their legs. He's more focused on their arms.
Thompson only attempted 38 passes last season, and Stevens only attempted 41 in the entire time he was at Penn State. Still, Stevens' completion percentage is over 10 points higher, 58.5 to 47.6. Moorhead is looking for the player who shows he can command the offense and sustain drives with accurate throws.
Stevens, who Moorhead coached at Penn State for two seasons as the offensive coordinator, only has one year of eligibility remaining. Graduate transfers typically don't choose their destinations without picking a place that will allow them to see the field as starters.
Thompson — who was recruited by Dan Mullen, not Moorhead — waited two years for the opportunity to start at State as he sat behind Fitzgerald. He might have to wait another while sitting behind Stevens, but it's still not a foregone conclusion Stevens will win the job.
Stevens has never started a game at the collegiate level. Thompson has started two. Thompson has also been in Moorhead's system for over a year. Though Stevens was in the same system for two years at Penn State, he still has to get re-acclimated to the nuances and complications of it.
Thompson said during spring practices that he feels fully comfortable operating the offense. Whether he gets the chance to do so in game action will be decided by what he does on the practice field in the final weeks leading up to the start of the season.
Burning question: Ole Miss football: What will be the most intriguing position battle?
Manning Passing Academy: State of Mississippi represented well with quarterbacks
Check back to the Clarion Ledger tomorrow for another topic about Mississippi State football in 2019.
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