MSU's Fitzgerald working to better his passing attack

Staff Writer

Ask almost anyone what number they most associate with Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and their answer would likely be the No. 7 on Fitzgerald’s jersey. New MSU head coach Joe Moorhead wants to associate a different number with Fitzgerald though – No. 65 – as in a 65 percent completion percentage for the season.
“That has kind of always been our benchmark,” Moorhead said last week when asked where he’d like Fitzgerald’s completion percentage to be at year’s end.
If 65 percent sounds like a high number, that’s because it is. Particularly in Fitzgerald’s case. It’ll take significant improvement for Fitzgerald to get where his head coach wants him to be.
Fitzgerald has a career completion percentage of 55 percent. There are multiple explanations for that number not being higher.
First, Fitzgerald had little development at quarterback prior to arriving at Mississippi State. He started just one year at the position in high school, and even then, was in a triple-option system that didn’t prioritize throwing the football.
Then, the last two years with the Bulldogs – particularly last season – Fitzgerald has been hampered by an MSU receiving group that has been plagued by drops at times and hasn’t been able to consistently get separation from defenders.
That doesn’t mean Fitzgerald hasn’t found success throwing the football. He’s passed for 4,440 career yards. That total stands at eighth in Mississippi State history. He has thrown 39 career touchdown passes.
Still, Fitzgerald believes he can be better. In Moorhead’s offensive system, which likes to create one-on-one opportunities down the field, Fitzgerald needs to be better. It’s why Fitzgerald has used the spring and summer to try and refine his passing attack.
“I’ve been working on my lower body a little bit,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve done a few things with my off hand. It’s very, very small tweaks that are going to end up making me a more consistent and accurate passer.”
Moorhead elaborates by explaining Fitzgerald has been working to make sure his feet are better aligned at his target. Fitzgerald is working to develop a better, more repeatable rhythm with his throws.
Fitzgerald has had plenty of time lately to try and get it all down too. He’s spent the last several months bouncing back from his gruesome ankle injury he suffered in last year’s regular season finale. Fitzgerald went through spring practice with the Bulldogs, but didn’t participate in any contact drills. He cautiously protected his ankle, thus giving him even more time to work on his throwing.
Though Fitzgerald didn’t actively face a live rush in the spring, he did take mental repetitions. He watched plays develop and determined what he’d do with the football should he have been the quarterback in the midst of the action. However, Fitzgerald admits that it’s about to be a different world for him now that he’s about to finally be fully healthy and back to normal. He’s about to see if he is indeed the better passer he thinks he has become.
“Mentally, I don’t think I’ve ever had a pass be incomplete,” Fitzgerald said. “Physically going out there and making plays is a big difference. You can do what you can mentally, but you have to physically go out there and do it and get the muscle memory for it.
“You learn by doing, so I’m excited to get those reps in camp.”
After training camp will come September. That’s when the Bulldogs kick off the 2018 season for real. It won’t be until then that Mississippi State can get a true gauge of where Fitzgerald stands as a passer.
For Fitzgerald’s part, there seems to be no worries. When Fitzgerald was asked if he’s ready to be the quarterback Moorhead needs to run his high-octane offensive style, Fitzgerald had little hesitation.
“Absolutely,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m excited to throw the ball down the field.”