Young players impress in annual spring game

Redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Tiano runs for a first down during the annual spring game. The white team won the game 34-21.

Mississippi State played their annual Maroon-White spring football game  on Saturday and showcased the 2016 version of MSU football. The Maroon team topped the White team, outscoring them 34-21. 

Going into the game, many were hoping to get a clearer picture of the quarterback battle between Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley, Damien Williams and Nick Tiano. However, no QB stood out, and the picture is still unclear. 

Williams and Fitzgerald led the White team. Williams led all QBs, going 14 for 20 passing and threw 165 passing yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Fitzgerald, who many considered the favorite for the starting job, had less success. He completed 10 of 20 passes and had 127 yards with one touchdown but also threw two interceptions. 

Tiano and Staley were the quarterbacks for the Maroon team. Tiano had a break-out game and surprised many with his play. He went 8 of 13 passing for 99 yards and one touchdown while throwing one interception. He also ran the ball 10 times for 76 yards. Staley had the worst day of the four quarterbacks, going 5 for 11 passing  for 48 yards. He threw no touchdowns and no interceptions. 

Head Coach Dan Mullen, who coached quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Alex Smith and Dak Prescott, gave his opinon on the quarterback battle after the game. 

“To me it’s about consistency of play,” said Mullen. “Some would do great on one day and be kind of average on the next day, and someone else will stand out the next day. They were all pretty even coming out of spring.”

However, like many spring games, a few younger players stepped up and made their names known. On offense it was running back Nick Gibson, who had 14 rushes for 79 yards and one touchdown for the Maroon squad. Matching Gibson was running back Alec Murphy who led the White squad with eight rushes for 45 yards.

 On defense, the standouts were freshman linebacker Leo Lewis and sophomore safety Mark McLaurin. Leo Lewis flew all over the field racking up seven tackles and a lone interception. McLaurin broke up multiple passes and caught two interceptions. 

One of the interceptions came on a trick play that saw former QB Dak Prescott step on the field and throw a pass to former running back Anthony Dixon. McLaurin showed off his speed and chased the ball down for  an interception. 

McLaurin gave his breakdown of the play after the game.

“My teammates had given me the heads up about it and I knew it was coming, so when I saw him I just had to run up and grab it,” said McLaurin. “It wasn’t a normal formation, so when I saw Dak on the sidelines, I had to go get it.”

Not to be left out, a couple of seniors also had strong showings. Johnathan Calvin had four sacks on the day and eight total tackles to lead the Maroon team. DeAndre Ward led the White defense with nine tackles. Senior and former All-SEC player A.J. Jefferson was disruptive at the line of scrimmage and  caught a rare defensive lineman interception. 

Defensive Coordinator Peter Sirmon talked about Calvin’s day and spring  season after the game.  

“John did some really good things,” said Sirmon. “He had some nice flashes today rushing the quarterback. He has done that throughout the spring, and I’m really excited about him rushing the quarterback right now.”

The MSU football team has now completed their spring practices and will move on to summer workouts before camps in the fall. With no clear winner in the QB battle, many will look for someone to separate themselves from the others before the season’s start. The Bulldogs will open up the 2016 football season against South Alabama at home in Davis Wade Stadium on September 3. 

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