Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead received some huge, albeit expected, news on Friday when graduate transfer quarterback Tommy Stevens announced his intention to finish out his collegiate athletic eligibility in maroon and white. Of course, Stevens and Moorhead already have an established relationship from Moorhead’s days of coordinating Penn State’s offense before assuming the role of head man in Starkville. Stevens will make his way to Mississippi from Happy Valley for one final season of eligibility, and he’ll look to help Moorhead make good on promises and expectations of a prolific and explosive offense like the one he schemed for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions of PSU. Stevens was recruited out of high school to play in the Moorhead offense, and he comes into an offensive system that he knows well and is comfortable within. As a freshman and sophomore at Penn State, Stevens backed up quarterback standout Trace McSorely. Stevens found himself not only in relief roles at quarterback, but as playmaker in the rushing and receiving game as Moorhead found ways to get the ball in the hands of the talented athlete while still allowing McSorely to run the show. Stevens runs like a bruising tailback and has sure hands as a receiver, but he’s coming into Starkville with the intentions of snatching the quarterback mantle of former State signal caller Nick Fitzgerald from heir apparent Keytaon Thompson. Thompson, like Stevens, is a dynamic athlete that can be magical with the ball in his hands both as a passer and a ball carrier. In his two starts for MSU, Thompson has 10 touchdowns, five passing and five rushing. He’s totaled 747 yards of offense by himself, and led State to two wins. Moorhead certainly finds himself with a surplus of talent at the quarterback position. Both guys have shown the ability to spread the ball around, with Thompson developing into a better passer and Stevens showing flashes during his time at PSU, but both also are probably most dangerous on the ground. When State fans have thought of Thompson as the Guy to be groomed into the starter ever since he set foot on campus, what should they make of this challenger to the throne that’s been thrown into the mix? The first thing that State fans should know is that adding good players cannot hurt the team. Some people may be Keytaon Thompson fans, but the loyalty of the fan base belongs to Mississippi State University, not any one player or coach. If Stevens wins the job, it I because months of summer workouts and fall camp has demonstrated that he is the best quarterback in the locker room. Coach Moorhead gets paid to win football games, and the best way to win football games is to put the best players and the best scheme on the field. The second thing State fans should recognize is that if Thompson holds the job from Stevens, the added competition will make Thompson that much better than he would have been had Stevens not arrived. Fighting for their job will not make a person perform worse, and that as is true in this case as any. Thirdly, Stevens can help the heir of the heir to the quarterback job, freshman Garrett Shrader, learn the offense and grow accustomed to the Moorhead scheme. This is something that can prepare Shrader for the Show when Stevens and Thompson have moved on. Another thing fans should note is that Stevens wasn’t recruited to Mississippi State to hold a clipboard. Yes, Thompson is good quarterback and many people are projecting him to still win the job, but this race is as wide open as it could be. There is no reason to add a guy in the offseason that isn’t going to make it onto the field, and even if Stevens isn’t QB1, he’ll find his way onto the field somehow. Finally, it’s important to know that Stevens may be able help Moorhead open up the offense much like the way he did at Penn State. Most of Tommy Stevens’s career in Happy Valley was characterized by making big plays with McSorely still on the field. With the athleticism and talent of these two quarterbacks, both of them could serve in that hybrid-gadget role that Stevens found success with at Penn State and that Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints has succeeded with in the NFL. This is something that should excite Bulldog fans by the mere thought of it. Imagine having two huge, extremely fast athletes that can pass, catch, and run on the field at once. How does a defense defend that? The mental taxation alone of defending two guys with that kind of makeup would give the offense an extra step because it makes defenders do a little too much thinking. The two-quarterback system may call for Thompson and Stevens to switch between each taking snaps under center and each lining up in other parts of the formation and allowing for jet sweeps, end-arounds, zone reads, run/pass options or a plethora of trick plays to be in Moorhead’s bag of tricks to frustrate SEC defenses with athleticism and creativity.
When it comes to comparing the two potential starters, both are big, strong, fast, and athletic (Stevens is around 6’4”. 220 lbs and Thompson weighs in at 6’4’ 225 lbs). Both should be very familiar with the offensive scheme. Stevens has had two years to play in this scheme of Moorhead’s, and Thompson has had two spring training periods as QB1 and a whole season to learn the system already. Both are true dual-threat guys that can run the ball as well as throw it. Stevens was only a backup for three years, and transferred because he senses he’ll be a backup again, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t talented enough to take Thompson’s place in 2019. Stevens would have transferred somewhere else if he didn’t believe himself capable of landing the job this year. However, Thompson has proven his merit on the field as a Bulldog, and he is skilled enough to make this a real competition. We didn’t add a guy to the roster that will automatically be given the keys, and Thomson is just as likely if not more likely than Stevens to trot out onto the field for the opening snaps of 2019. Thompson hasn’t been replaced by any means whatsoever, and his competitive fire and outstanding work ethic will enable him to fight to keep his positon as the quarterback of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Only time will tell who the signal caller in Starkville will be next season, but with the pieces returning and the playmakers added, State fans should feel good about the future of their offense in 2019.

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