“My first official visit was the Egg Bowl in 2013,” he recalls. “When Bo Wallace fumbled in the end zone.” And, Mississippi State recovered to seal an upset victory. The build-up to that still-amazing moment and the explosion of home team relief reverberates today with the current Bulldog quarterback.
“From that moment on I had a though understanding of the hatred and the physicality and the nastiness of that game. And the past two I’ve been on the team, been a part of, have been exactly the same.”
Same for intensity and emotion, Fitzgerald means. Outcome? Not for Mississippi State. A still-inexplicable loss in Oxford followed by last year’s frustrating finish to Dak Prescott’s epic career have followed.
Instead of observing as a visitor, Fitzgerald has had a front row view. A view only as he was a 2014 redshirt; and last year Prescott rightly received every snap.
This time, the game is Fitzgerald’s opportunity and responsibility to begin his own Egg Bowl legacy.
“The last two years we haven’t played very good games and came away with some losses,” he said. “So this year we’re going to turn that around, hopefully.”
Note, hopefully. That’s a pragmatic quarterback talking. Save the rah-rah and life-and-death for the right moments. There’s too much at Saturday stake to burn out emotions in practices.
So, Fitzgerald’s own game week approach?
“Not really treating it any differently in terms of preparation or trying to press or trying to do too much. Just stay in the routine and play a good ball game.”
Fitzgerald himself is coming off a good game. A pretty good November for that matter. In the last game of his first season starting the sophomore accounted for six touchdowns and 459 yards. Two weeks earlier it was 391 yards and four touchdowns in beating Texas A&M.
After a slow, alright, non-start in his first start to open the season, Fitzgerald has put together a season for the literal books. Only Prescott has had 3,000-yard total offense years at State, or only until Fitzgerald joined him last week.
Fitzgerald is about to not only break Prescott’s quarterback rushing record when he gains two yards Saturday; he is on pace for one of the five-best or higher such years by any SEC signal-caller. Ever.
The team’s overall struggles this season do overshadow the young quarterback’s personal successes. Still all ought appreciate how far Fitzgerald has come in this, again, first season as a State and SEC starter.
“It’s just a lot more comfortable,” Fitzgerald said. “That comes with reps and experience, having a full season going into the last game. It just feels a lot more comfortable. I feel the game has slowed down a lot compared to what it used to be. And we’ve all kind of meshed together, that always makes it easier.”
Easier doesn’t mean easy. Not in the Egg Bowl. Fate has Fitzgerald facing his first rivalry snap in the most hostile of State settings, and he knows what to expect. “A very physical, very nasty game.” Which means to his mind Mississippi State has to come out swinging, hit hard fast and do it first.
“On the road you need to establish yourself early, and need to establish your running game early. And you need to stay in the game.” A week ago the Bulldogs were matching Arkansas blow-for-blow in one quarter, then missed out on second period points to let it get away.
Or, Fitzgerald can recall watching, there was last year’s Egg Bowl when an over-emotional home team gave up three fast touchdowns and couldn’t recover.
“But I think we have a good gameplan and I think we’ll be fine, I don’t think it’s going to happen this year.”
Whatever does happen this year, a quarterback career is under way and only half-way done too.