Mississippi State’s Nick Gibson (21) led the Maroon rushing attack with 108 yards during Saturday’s Maroon-White game at Davis Wade Stadium. Gibson is tackled here by Fletcher Adams (43) of the White squad. Behind two interception return touchdowns, White won 21-10. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
April 8, 2017 11:34:26 PM
STARKVILLE -- Nick Fitzgerald has never thrown four interceptions in a game as Mississippi State's quarterback -- he's never thrown more than two.
If he's going to throw four, as he did Saturday, it might as well be in an intrasquad scrimmage.
"I'll throw four interceptions to my defense, that's fine," he said after a moment to begrudge that portion of his stat line. "That shows they're out there making plays, they're busting their butts for the ball and they're in the right position to make plays."
The MSU secondary swiped a total of five passes, all of them from Maroon quarterbacks, in Saturday's Maroon & White Game that the White team won 21-10. It was indicative of a spring in which the secondary took a noticeable step forward after ranking tied for 13th, 11th and 10th in passing yards per attempt allowed in the Southeastern Conference the last three years.
"They're playing lights-out right now," Fitzgerald said. "There's very little room to complete passes out there right now."
Redshirt freshman Cameron Dantzler added, "The corners and the secondary, this was actually one of our best days."
It was certainly one of Dantzler's best days, who intercepted Fitzgerald twice, once in the end zone and returning the other to the opposite end zone for a touchdown. MSU coach Dan Mullen was most impressed by the adverse conditions Dantzler performed in.
"He got banged up a little earlier this week. Learning how to play through things is a big thing for young players," Mullen said.
"It's great when everybody feels good, but when you don't feel 100 percent, can you still make those plays? It was good to see him make those."
Talk of such high-turnover outings throughout spring from the secondary came regularly, the only missing link was consistency. Cornerback Jamal Peters, who also had an interception Saturday, said the lack of consistency is rooted in focus -- or lack thereof.
"Say we give 100 percent in one day, the next day we might come out sluggish. It's a lack of focus," Peters said. "When we focus as a defense I feel like we're the best defense in the SEC, even though it's probably too early to say that."
Lots to go around
Deion Pope and Brian Cole also picked off passes, Pope and Cole doing so in their first public action for MSU as junior college transfers.
Cole played at East Mississippi Community College.
Pope and Cole were not alone in their Davis Wade Stadium debuts: early enrollee freshman quarterback Keytaon Thompson was the lone quarterback of the winning White team completing six passes for 80 yards. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Reggie Todd was Thompson's favorite target, catching four passes for 51 yards. On the other side of the ball, redshirt freshman Erroll Thompson, tallying 5 1.2 tackles and a sack.
On the Maroon team, sophomore wide receiver Jamal Couch had two catches for 28 yards.
"Saw some guys make some plays in their first chance and opportunity to do that playing in front of the crowd, saw some guys that missed that," Mullen said. "Next time we come out here and play in front of a crowd, it's for real, so we have to start making some of those plays."
As the defense moves into the summer, the next objective is depth.
"We still have some guys learning, but after this transition in May, June, July and we get into fall camp," junior defensive lineman Braxton Hoyett said, "we're going to be better and we're going to be a good unit."
Mullen added, "I don't think we're there yet at all. There's still a lot of young guys and new faces on that defense, not a lot of seniors there. I'd love to get that way, where we have some depth on defense."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
1. Tourney matchup reunites MSU assistant with twin brother COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Diamond Dawgs outslug Auburn to grab 20-15 win COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Bulldogs shut out by Auburn in softball series finale COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Arizona State, UConn among teams reaching Sweet 16 COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Missouri strikes quickly after storm delay COLLEGE SPORTS