Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder has seen enough of Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to compare him to former K-State great Collin Klein, and yet he doesn’t fully know what to expect from him when the Bulldogs come to town on Saturday.
How can that be?
Blame a coaching change from Dan Mullen to Joe Moorhead, followed by a one-game suspension that prevented Fitzgerald from playing for Mississippi State in the Bulldogs’ opening rout of Stephen F. Austin.
Backup quarterback Keytaon Thompson, not Fitzgerald, stole the show last week and tied an SEC record with seven touchdowns (five passes, two runs).
It was an impressive showing that didn’t reveal much about Mississippi State’s new-look offense ... with Fitzgerald at the helm.
Things are bound to change on Saturday when Fitzgerald returns.
“Had the same staff been in place the previous year, we could have gone off the 13 games from last season,” Snyder said. “We still can to a certain degree, but not in the structure of the offense that is in place now. That can create some issues and uncertainty.”
The Bulldogs clearly have faith in Fitzgerald, a three-year starter with career statistics similar to what Tim Tebow delivered at Florida. Fitzgerald’s junior season was cut short by injury and he missed the first game of his senior season because of a suspension. But he remains the unquestioned starter.
Fitzgerald has thrown for 4,440 yards and 39 touchdowns, but he’s most dangerous on the ground. He has also rushed for 2,486 rushing yards, just 461 shy of Tebow’s record for a SEC quarterback.
When pressed to compare Fitzgerald to another quarterback, Snyder suggested Klein, a former Heisman finalist and K-State’s current QB coach, saying they had similar numbers.
They are also similar in size. Klein was 6 feet 5 and 227 pounds when he played for K-State. Fitzgerald checks in at 6-5 and 230 pounds.
“He can do a lot of different things,” Snyder said. “His leadership, from what I see and what I hear, he has a quality leadership capacity. The players step in and follow him and he’s an active leader. He seems to be a pretty bright young guy. You see from the film last year and he’s going into a new offense, didn’t have spring practice behind him, but I think he’s bright and should be able to pick those things up very well.”
The Wildcats will have their hands full trying to defend Fitzgerald on Saturday.
He should provide a tougher test than South Dakota, regardless of Mississippi State’s uncertain gameplan.
“It’s a big job for all the defensive linemen,” K-State defensive tackle Jordan Mittie said. “We’ve got to keep him contained in there, keep our pass rush lanes. With a dual-threat guy, that’s just another thing we’ve got to prepare for this week.”