Dan Mullen hoping summer months can help determine MSU's top quarterback

Dan Mullen hoping summer months can help determine MSU's top quarterback

June 17th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Former Baylor School quarterback Nick Tiano talks with Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen during the team's spring game on April 16.

Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

Fournette honored

On Thursday, LSU junior running back Leonard Fournette was named the men’s SEC Sportsmanship Award winner for his actions last October in support of South Carolina residents following unprecedented flooding in the Palmetto State.

LSU’s scheduled game at South Carolina had to be moved to Baton Rouge, La., due to the flooding, and Fournette announced after the 45-24 victory over the Gamecocks that he would auction his jersey to help the victims. The auction was approved by the NCAA and raised $101,000, the most ever generated by an active student-athlete.

— David Paschall

 

Considering his quarterback quandary contains four comparable candidates, Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen hopes June and July prove every bit as valuable as August when it comes to determining the starter.

Elijah Staley, Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams and former Baylor School standout Nick Tiano are vying to succeed Dak Prescott, who was the most productive player in program history before being picked by the Dallas Cowboys in this spring's NFL draft. The Bulldogs have not held formal practices since April 16, when the Maroon and White game was their 15th and final spring workout.

"I don't think anybody clinched the job, and I don't think anybody put themselves out of consideration for the job," Mullen said last month. "All four guys are continuing to battle, and the thing for them is that no one has been the starter before and no one has had to lead the team over the summer months.

"I think this is an unbelievable opportunity for one of the four to separate himself in terms of work ethic, grind and commitment, and I'm hoping one or two of them will start separating themselves."

Williams is the veteran of the bunch and briefly subbed for an injured Prescott late in the 2013 season. Fitzgerald and Staley each got mop-up opportunities last season, leaving Tiano as the only candidate yet to take a snap in a game.

Though Fitzgerald and Staley played a year ago, leading to speculation early this spring that they were the two top quarterbacks, that duo combined to go 15-of-33 passing with two interceptions in the spring game.

Williams is no longer an afterthought after completing 14 of 20 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game, while Tiano had the best all-around showing by completing 8 of 13 passes for 99 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The 6-foot-4, 231-pound Tiano also rushed 10 times for 76 yards.

"There is something about him," Bulldogs tackle Justin Senior told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in April when asked about Tiano. "I think he's going to be great."

Tiano completed 64.9 percent (24 of 37) of his passes during Mississippi State's three scrimmages this spring, which was the highest of any quarterback. He also threw only one interception, so he had the best ratio in that category as well.

"Every day, you want to go out there and take all the reps," Tiano told reporters in April, "but you've got to be patient. You have to watch and learn, and when you get your chance, you have to make the most of it."

Mullen made all of his quarterbacks "live" this spring in scrimmages, which meant they could get sacked. He did that in order to get a better idea of how they would perform in game-type situations, but he added that he would not make them live in August.

There is no timetable for naming the starter — "I would never do that, because I have no idea what they're going to do on their own over the summer," Mullen said — and coming up with a clear-cut No. 2 will be an important objective during preseason camp as well.

"You have to have more than one quarterback ready, because you're a play away from needing the No. 2 guy to go in there," Mullen said. "The team has to understand that and be ready for not one but multiple quarterbacks, and if it's decided at the end of the first week of camp or the third week of camp or the first game week or game four of the season, we're going to have to be able to adjust and do what's best for the team.

"You have to be flexible, because no situations are ever the same. If you paint yourself in a corner and say there is only one way to do it, then you're not going to be very successful. We're just going to sort through it until we feel someone has separated himself to give us the best opportunity to win."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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