Freshman QB puts on a show in scrimmage


Ben Portnoy



The quarterback conundrum in Starkville rages on. 


Junior Keytaon Thompson should have the inside track to the starting job for Mississippi State, but freshman quarterback Jalen Mayden impressed Saturday in the team's first scrimmage of the spring. 


Finishing 12-of-15 for 135 yards against the second-team defense, Mayden looked comfortable in the pocket. 


The Sachse, Texas, native was patient -- finding receivers out of the slot, on the outside, and in soft spots against zone coverage. 


Thompson finished 7-of-15 for 77 yards, a touchdown and an interception -- a batted ball that found its way into the hands of senior defensive tackle Lee Autry. 


His lone score came on a back-shoulder throw to junior receiver Osirus Mitchell on a post route in the front left corner of the end zone. 


"I think they're playing with more confidence, both guys who played today," head coach Joe Morehead said. "And I think they're taking positive steps forward every day." 


Here's a look at other takeaways from Saturday's scrimmage: 


With seven starters gone from the nation's No. 1 defense in opponent yards per game, there are plenty of question marks on that side of the ball. 


And while the defensive line and secondary remain unclear, the linebacking corps is rock solid. 


The group should be the Bulldogs' most experienced and deepest position with senior Leo Lewis, and juniors Erroll Thompson and Willie Gay Jr. returning. 


Erroll Thompson flashed his hard-hitting ability in the middle during the scrimmage, smoking junior running back Kylin Hill in the interior on a downhill run early on. Gay nearly corralled a one-handed interception on a ball that Keytaon Thompson didn't get quite enough height on. 


Senior Sh'mar Kilby-Lane, and freshmen Nathaniel Watson, Jett Johnson and Aaron Brule should figure into the rotation as well. 


STRONG UP FRONT: As the defensive line continues to heal up and retool, the MSU offensive line looked downright dominant Saturday. 


Senior running back Nick Gibson and Hill combined for 81 yards on 13 carries. Thompson and sophomore Robert Rivers added another 35 yards on seven total touches behind the big bodies up front. 


Saturday's first team consisted of senior tackle Tyre Phillips, junior guards Stewart Reese and Dareuan Parker, and senior center Darryl Williams. 


Junior Greg Eiland and senior Tommy Champion rotated in the right tackle spot. 


Heading into the middle part of spring ball, Morehead said he expects to go eight or nine players deep on the offensive line come fall. 


"They're a more experienced and veteran group," he said. "They've been playing with very good physicality."  


DAWG NOTES: Junior safety C.J. Morgan, junior defensive end Marquiss Spencer, junior linebacker R.J. Jennings, freshman receiver Cason Grant and senior receiver Stephen Guidry all wore yellow limited-participant jerseys Saturday. 


Morehead also revealed senior defensive tackle Kendell Jones sustained an upper-body injury a few practices back that will hold him out for "an extended period of time." 


Freshman quarterback Garrett Shrader was among a handful of players held out of the scrimmage after being late to Saturday morning's team meeting. Morehead did not disclose the other names. 


MSU will continue spring practices next week with another scrimmage to follow Saturday. The annual Maroon and White Game will be played April 13.


Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.


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