April 21, 2018 11:21:42 PM
STARKVILLE -- Austin Williams came off the line running an option route: against zone, he sinks to a hole in the zone and stays there, but he beats man-to-man with an out route. The man coverage forced Williams to the sideline, several yards into the end zone; it also forced a difficult window for quarterback Keytaon Thompson to hit. It was small demanded a very specific throw, a high one to a moving target with a defender in hot pursuit; the shrinking pocket around him made the footwork tricky.
Still, Thompson fired -- just before an incoming defensive end poked at the ball from his blind side -- looping the ball over Williams and the man assigned to cover him. Thompson's environs did not suggest a highlight throw on the way, but that's what he delivered; the ball landed perfectly in Williams' path for the score.
"Keytaon put it right on the money," Williams said.
Much like the 14 spring practices that preceded it, Saturday's Maroon & White Game gave the soon-to-be sophomore from New Orleans an abundance of opportunity to showcase his skills and he did just that. His 26-for-44 passing for 316 yards and two touchdowns was the biggest draw as the Maroon Team beat the White Team 28-10 -- both of them quarterbacked by Thompson more times than not.
"He showed he is able to beat you with his arm and his legs," MSU coach Joe Moorhead said. "He made some great throws and he made some throws where he should've thrown it away or like to have it back, but he showed promise for the future and I was pleased with his progress this spring."
Thompson was prepared to handle the workload, given he's done it most of the spring. Starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has been held out of many team drills, including Saturday's game, as a precaution as he recovers from the gruesome ankle injury he suffered in the Egg Bowl. Carrying it over to the intrasquad scrimmage remained a step beyond what he'd done in practice, and one that wasn't brought to him until the night before the game.
"I've never had a situation like that, that was wild. Good thing I wasn't live, because I probably would've taken off a few times and gotten tired," Thompson said. "It was fun."
He added he met the revelation from Moorhead by immediately drinking a lot of water so he wouldn't cramp up. It was a good call, as between the two teams he would end up running seven times for 36 yards. He took every snap of the first half and manned a few drives in the second half, too.
The double duty ends what Thompson approached as a pivotal spring in his development, one where he would get more reps than at any point in his college career barring one month as MSU's TaxSlayer Bowl starter. He took it on wanting to gain a complete understanding of the new offensive system and improve his coverage recognition skills. The reps gave him an opportunity to do just that.
"All the extra reps in the new system, you get to learn from them and you get to make more mistakes and learn from them," Thompson said. "You get more reps at it and I feel like the more reps you get at it, the better you get at it.
"After 14, 15 practices of going through it every day, going through it in the film room, I feel confident now."
Williams has seen the growth: "It's been great. He's developing as a passer and looked like a big-time guy."
Now Thompson and MSU transition into an offseason where the hope is he will continue to do more of the same.
"We're going to continue to add little subtleties and nuances, things that are going to make it better," Moorhead said. "What they got is the 1.0 version; we're going to view some cut-ups as a staff and add things to make it a little better. In the things he knows, we don't want him thinking, we want him reacting, and all of our guys can do that.
"At that position, it's not a position, it's a lifestyle. His maturation and where he is from day one to now, (quarterbacks coach and pass game coordinator Andrew) Breiner has done an excellent job with him and we're fortunate of have two returning quarterbacks of that caliber."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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