Mississippi State is a 21 point favorite in this weekend's game against Southern Miss. Last season the Bulldogs ran up 49 points in a shut out win over the Golden Eagles. Dak Prescott exited that contest very early in the second half. Back-up Damian Williams took over and threw a touchdown pass to cap the scoring for the night.
Now installed as Prescott's understudy, Nick Fitzgerald should get some snaps this Saturday if things go well for the Bulldogs.
"Last year I got to travel to all of the games and stay in the hotel and be in all of the meetings and that sort of thing," Fitzgerald said. "I got to see how the older guys handled everything. I got to see how they watched film and how they looked at everything. Now I have to take what I learned last year and do those things myself.
"I have really had to dive into the game plan, the scouting reports and that sort of thing. I have to actually get ready to go out there and play."
Having the chance to go through a season of dress rehearsals a season ago, Fitzgerald will not be in awe of the road game process. Learning the Bulldog way last fall should enable the redshirt freshman to simply fall in formation and prepare for game time.
"Some people got to go out on Friday night and have a good time and enjoy themselves," Fitzgerald said. "Saturday some of those guys got to go stand on the sidelines and wave a towel.
"I was in the hotel on Friday nights going over all of the last minute adjustments and going through the walk-thrus. I was eating with the team and talking with the coaches one last time before game day. All of that helped me learn the process of all we go through before a game. I know what to do now to get my mind right before I go out there and play. It definitely helped me a lot."
In high school, Fitzgerald knew he would take the lion's share of the snaps. The Richmond Hill, Georgia product reports that things are a little different now. He never knows when his number may be called into action.
"I just prepare at all times like I am going to be the starter," Fitzgerald explained. "Week to week, I just try to prepare as much as a starter would. You just never know when you're going to play. You have to be ready."
The Bulldogs' senior starter Prescott is known for his strong work ethic. Fitzgerald reports that #15 has been a great mentor to him as he has acclimated to life in the Southeastern Conference.
"Every day in practice, Dak almost makes it harder than an actual game," Fitzgerald said. "He challenges you every day in practice. You better know exactly what you're doing. You have to know everything, every look, so when you do get in the game you're ready. You know you're prepared and your mind is not racing 100 miles an hour. He helps you feel like you've been there and done that, because of all we've done in practice. You can just get out there and do your thing."
Fitzgerald signed on with the Bulldogs as part of a two quarterback class. Fellow Georgia product Elijah Staley also inked with Mississippi State, but neither allowed the situation to cause any awkwardness as signing day approached. Now as teammates and competitors on the same depth chart, the pair continues to push each other as friends.
"Elijah is still my boy," Fitzgerald said with a smile. "We hang out all of the time and we talk all of the time. We're always joking back and forth in the group message. We know next year that we're going to be battling it out, but this year we're both just trying to learn as much from Dak as we can. We both want to get in some games this year and show what we can do."
Should Fitzgerald see the field this weekend, it will be his first official action as a Bulldog player. Above all things, Fitzgerald is hoping for a Mississippi State win, but should Dan Mullen save a few snaps for the talented underclassmen, there would be no complaints.
"It's been a little while since I have been able to step on the field in a real game type situation," Fitzgerald said. "I think I am more excited than anything else. Every day I have been preparing myself for the big stage. I have just been trying to get better day to day. I am just ready to play."
While the Maroon and White game will not count in the career win/loss total for Fitzgerald, the experience won over a lot of the Mississippi State faithful. Fitzgerald showed that the Bulldog quarterback cupboard is full.
"It's always going to be hard being the guy after Dak Prescott," Fitzgerald said. "He is going to leave some giant shoes to fill. It is good to know that the fans know that all hope is not lost when he leaves. He is going to do on and do some great things in the NFL.
"It's great to know that we have some people behind him that are pushing to get better every day. We have a lot of support and it means a lot to us to know that the fans expect to keep winning and that next year is not going to just be some rebuilding year."