Certainly no one thought Mississippi State’s quarterback was hot and bothered to talk with media following Thursday’s practice. It’s the other way around as Fitzgerald has become the big Dog in demand after leading State’s offense in a strong late-season surge.
Now offense, defense, and specialists all are turning attention to the bowl game they earned in November. After investing over a week in training camp sorts of practices, the Bulldogs are at last preparing directly to play an opponent. Three days will be spent on installation with practices against the scout teams, wrapping up Saturday afternoon.
How has the team looked in the transition from camp to game prep? Fitzgerald: “Looking good. We finally got out of that little mini-fall camp we had. A lot of guys getting a lot of different reps, younger guys getting a lot of opportunities to kind of build a case for them next season.”
“Now we’re finally getting back into some real football practices, scouting the opponent, that kind of thing. So we’re definitely looking good, the offense looked great, the defense shutting it down. So I think we’re going to be fine.”
Are there any drills to get back into game-prep mode after almost a month off? “I mean, not really. We’ve been out here practicing and doing drills, that kind of thing. It just changes from not as many drills to more scout team and that kind of thing.”
Has any of the younger guys caught your eye? “I mean there are a lot of young guys that are doing really well. There’s a couple of guys on the d-line that are really shining right now. We’ve got some young receivers that are looking really good. Definitely the future is looking bright.”
What does not getting hit do for your body, do you feel better? “Ahhh, definitely, no doubt. That constant wear-and-tear, constant hitting, it will wear you down little. But having a little time off really helped get back in the healthy feeling.”
What has Fred Ross meant to you as a quarterback, in your development? “Oh, he’s phenomenal. I couldn’t have asked for someone better like that. A senior, has a lot of experience, a lot of reps, has a lot of knowledge to help me as a young guy, as a quarterback.”
“It’s always great if another position can help you. He knows every look, he knows every read, he knows every play from every position on the field. He can just do it all and is a fantastic player. And it was definitely a pleasure to have him.”
Reflecting on how far you’ve come and following in Dak Prescott’s footsteps, what does it mean to take your team to a bowl game? “It’s phenomenal. You never want to end a streak that you’re on going to bowl games. Following Dak Prescott, the best quarterback to come from Mississippi State, so I knew I was going to be scrutinized and compared to him in everything I did. But I just kind of tried to look past that and play my game and play for myself. And it’s great to have another game.”
How much does the quarterback help with developing new centers? “We had a few guys working at center and getting some reps. Kind of trying to feel things out. We’ve got some juco guys coming in so that might be a thing as well.”
“Who knows? Whoever he thinks is going to be the most capable to handle the responsibilities is who is going to play. And we have a few guys working and they’re looking good right now.”
What led to Aeris Williams having a breakout stretch? “I think just hard work. Obviously he’s an extremely talented guy. But he works very, very hard. I mean he’s always going to be one of the first-in, last-out kind of guys. He busts his butt, and he loves football, he loves contact. He just loves being out there around his teammates. He’s flourished and he’s really gotten in his groove and it’s good to see that.”
What have you seen from Miami-Ohio defense so far? “They’re four-down, two-high guys. They don’t run anything crazy. Kind of base defense, they don’t pressure that much. But you know coming into a bowl game anything can change, they can do really anything.”
“They’ve got some good coverage guys out on the corners. The front seven is solid, play really hard. Just all-around a very solid defense and we’re going to have to execute pretty well to have any type of success.”
What made the offensive line work well at the end of the season? “They’re working really hard. I think everyone is meshing well, everyone has kind of come together. We’re feeding off each other, we’re having a lot of energy, we have a lot of excitement finally coming together, bonding throughout the season. And I think that really helped. They’re a hard-working group of guys and they have a fantastic coach that’s pushing them. So there’s more improvement."