MSU offensive coaches not concerned about issues with passing accuracy

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald passes under pressure against Kansas State.

Staff Writer

Nick Fitzgerald had Osirus Mitchell open down the sideline in the first half last Saturday at Kansas State.

The Mississippi State quarterback fired the ball towards his receiver. If caught, the pass looked sure to go for a touchdown. Instead, the ball was thrown too far. Opportunity missed.

It’s been a bit of a familiar theme for the MSU passing attack so far this season. The Bulldogs have taken shots, but they’ve not been as successful doing so as the State offensive staff would like.

Head coach Joe Moorhead has repeatedly thrown out his desired completion percentage for his quarterbacks. He wants around 65 percent. Through two weeks, Bulldog signal callers – primarily Fitzgerald and his backup Keytaon Thompson – are completing only 42.6 percent of their passes.

Are the Bulldogs worried? Not at all says MSU offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

“Definitely not concerned,” Getsy said. “I think that’s just (needing) game reps. You’re talking about Keytaon’s first game of the year and Nick’s first game of the year. We’re throwing the ball down the field, too. Those aren’t easy completions. Those aren’t 100 percent completion balls. We’ll continue to get those relationships with Nick and the receivers and tight ends and running backs. Those are all correctable things that with more repetition, we’re going to keep getting better. Each game, you’ll see an improvement.”

Right now, it’s pretty easy for Mississippi State to overlook the incompletions. For when the Bulldogs do complete passes, they’re going for big yardage. MSU is averaging 21.2 yards per completion this year. Already this season, 10 different Bulldogs have caught at least one pass for 20 or more yards.

So while the accuracy of the passing game might be in question, the production is not. Couple that with MSU’s rushing ability out of the quarterback position – Thompson and Fitzgerald have combined to run for 268 yards and two touchdowns through two games – and the Bulldogs have reason to be patient with their passing.

"I think there's been consistency from a productivity standpoint,” Moorhead said. “The first week (against Stephen F. Austin), we had seven touchdowns from the quarterback position. This (past) week (at Kansas State), we had 150 yards rushing and threw for two (touchdowns). Certainly, we need to increase our efficiency while maintaining our productivity. I think that may be partly schematic that we are attempting to push the ball down the field more.

“A lot of things go into completion percentage – protection, the route, the read and the throw. I think both Fitzgerald and Thompson have made positive steps forward with what we want them to do at the quarterback position. We do need to be completing passes at a higher percentage."

For Fitzgerald’s part, he claims his major issue completing passes like the overthrow to Mitchell at Kansas State is just the fact he hadn’t played a game or been in live action since breaking his ankle in last year’s regular season finale.

“I think I was making the right decisions just not putting the ball where it needed to be,” Fitzgerald said. “Honestly, maybe I was just a little too excited. I overthrew a few guys. I was just excited to be out there in a game and have that adrenaline rushing for the first time in a long time. I just put a little too much on a couple balls.”

Fitzgerald’s position coach, MSU quarterbacks coach Andrew Breiner, agreed that Fitzgerald might have been just a tad too zealous at Kansas State.

Breiner believes Fitzgerald’s accuracy issues might be as simple as that on some of his throws, whereas he saw some areas for minor correction on other tosses.

“There were a handful of throws that were there or in that category of being just an inch or two off,” Breiner said. “Those were encouraging. Some others were more off than that. To be honest, I think it’s all fixable. There is no glaring issue. There is no mechanical issue.

“Part of it was just being a little excited early and he overthrew a couple, then there were a couple where he got a little wide with his base and missed on. There weren’t any throws I saw that weren’t correctable.”

So it’s back to the film room and practice fields for the Bulldogs as Fitzgerald and Thompson in particular look to become the more accurate passers their coaching staff and themselves desire.

Fitzgerald is confident everything that needs correcting will be fixed. Once it is, he says an already dangerous Mississippi State offense will be taken to the next level.

“Completion percentage will come,” Fitzgerald said. “It is what it is. We’ve made some bad throws. That’s on us. We’ll get that fixed and move on, but you see how explosive the offense is and you see how much more explosive it’ll be once we start hitting those throws.”