Fitzgerald back in saddle for No. 18 Mississippi State

The Sports Xchange

September 04, 2018 at 10:50 pm.

Kansas State survived a scare in its season-opening game, while No. 18 Mississippi State looked pretty scary. With starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald back in the lineup, those patterns just might continue Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan.

Kansas State (1-0) needed 15 fourth-quarter points to edge FCS opponent South Dakota. Big 12 Conference Special Teams Player of the Week Isaiah Zuber returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown to pull the Wildcats to within 24-19 early in the quarter. Five minutes later, Zuber caught a pass from quarterback Skylar Thompson in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown and the winning points in a 27-24 victory.

Mississippi State (1-0) needed no drama to demolish Stephen F. Austin 63-6. The Bulldogs scored on a 53-yard pass on their first play from scrimmage and had 21 points and 214 yards of total offense in the first quarter alone.

The Bulldogs saw 10 receivers catch passes, led by Osirus Mitchell, who caught just two passes but both went for touchdowns (84 and 30 yards). Mississippi State amassed 618 yards of total offense and limited SFA to just two field goals.

“That is the way the offence is built,” said backup quarterback Keytaon Thompson, who got the start because Fitzgerald was serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. “Everyone is going to touch (the ball) and if you have the opportunity to make a play you’re going to make it. I think that’s just what we did tonight. We made it happen.”

Thompson had 473 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns by himself. He was just 13-for-31 through the air, but threw for 364 yards and five touchdowns. The five passing touchdowns tied a school single-game record. Thompson added 109 yards on the ground for his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game. He also added two scores on the ground.

Now, he’ll become the backup again to Fitzgerald.

“I think Nick handled (the suspension) extremely well,” Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. “He worked to give our defense a very good look. He was very mature during the week during meetings and on the field. On game day, he was a vocal presence on the sideline and a great resource for K.T. being out there in just his second start.”

Mississippi State now has two viable quarterbacks, but is clear on who is at the top of the depth chart. Kansas State, however, remains undecided at quarterback.

Thompson earned the start against South Dakota, but he was out by the fourth series. He was replaced by Alex Delton.

Neither one was effective.

Delton finished 5 of 14 for 91 yards and one interception. Thompson didn’t fare much better when he returned, though he led the Wildcats’ comeback as part of his 8-for-14, 61-yard night. Thompson also ran for 78 yards on 12 carries.

“Skylar was able to come in and get some movement with the team in the second half of the ballgame,” Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder said on the Big 12 Coaches Teleconference on Monday. “But everybody had their opportunities and we went three quarters without putting the ball into the end zone, so that’s obviously a major concern.

“There were some decent things that they did during the course of the ball game, but they didn’t play nearly as well as I anticipated and hoped that they would.”

K-State’s defense was better than the stats showed. The Wildcats held South Dakota scoreless in the second half, and two offensive mistakes led to Coyotes points. An Alex Barnes fumble at his own 17-yard line set up a field goal, and Delton’s interception was returned 25 yards for a touchdown.

Barnes also fumbled with the Wildcats trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, one of four Kansas State turnovers.

“If we would have lost,” Barnes said after the game, “that would have been on me.”

K-State will have to play much better to have a chance against the Bulldogs. If you believe Moorhead, the Bulldogs will have to play better against the Wildcats.

“I thought we did some good things on offense, defense and special teams,” he said following Saturday’s victory. “There is certainly a lot to clean up moving forward against a quality opponent like Kansas State on the road. I am pleased but not satisfied.”