It was good to be back at Davis Wade Stadium for Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs as they made their first trip back to the home field since that fateful Thanksgiving night win a month ago. The construction work progressing each day is almost metaphorically adjacent to how the Bulldogs season went. Now, the coach and his players look to new beginnings and a bigger, and louder, future.
"It's going to be pretty sweet," Mullen said as he glanced over to the north end zone construction at Davis Wade. "We have a loud stadium already and I know when we sell it out next season, it's going to be one of the great home field advantages in the SEC."
MSU worked a full scrimmage inside the stadium in front of a handful of onlookers this morning with most of the starters spending the day either on the sideline or on the field watching plays develop and giving pointers to the young players. Quarterbacks were led almost exclusively by Damian Williams and Nick Fitzgerald.
Williams obviously looked the more experienced of the two, but Fitzgerald has quickly picked up on the offense and what's expected of him. Even thought the freshman was rushed early and often, he made solid reads and threw a few good balls throughout the scrimmage as he took as many reps as any freshman usually would, and then some.
"He's trying to figure out if the ball is blown or stuffed," Mullen joked about his fresh-out-of-high school quarterback. "It's a great opportunity. Here's the thing he's going to have now; when he gets back here in January, he's called the cadence and the huddle. He kind of has an understanding of the whole language of what's going to happen for him. I think even know he got a lot thrown at him, when we come back in January it'll make sense for him."
Fitzgerald certainly isn't expected to be the future of MSU football, but he's only a week removed from finishing his high school exams and graduating. The early start is as beneficial that one could get and he's already taking lessons from the now-seasoned Dak Prescott who spent the majority of the day guiding the young passer through the offense from behind the plays.
"Dak didn't have to do much out there today so Dak's job was to stand right next to him and make sure he knows what he's doing," Mullen said of Prescott's role with Fitzgerald. "That's what guys are there for. The older guys have to teach the younger guys what's expected of them."
Williams had an active arm throughout the day striking the end zone three times with two passes going to De'Runnya Wilson and one on a slant inside the five to Joe Morrow. One of the touchdowns to Wilson was on a deep ball where the freshman caught separation and ran 50 yards for six points, the other two were passes that Williams put only where his big-bodied receivers could catch them. Mullen said this is the best opportunity for his young guys to try their situations out for the future.
"Our guys played hard and had fun they love to play," Mullen said. "You get to kind of play in more of a game situation so it's a lot more fun. You have to kind of break up practice, it gets monotonous sometimes. They had a chance to come out and play and they had a lot of fun."
The younger players were the ones getting nearly all the reps as the first team offense and defense rarely touched the field. It was players like defensive end John Harris who had their chance to shine inside Davis Wade as he had 12 tackles, five for loss, and four sacks on the day. It was a big moment for the young players to feel exactly what it was like to make plays inside their home stadium and plays they can potentially make in the future.
"We've had guys that have worked hard all year and they don't get the game reps in the stadium so you get to see a lot of those guys get out there playing," Mullen said of the scrimmage. "Young guys that are going to be playing for us next year got their opportunity to get a game situation here in the stadium."
The Bulldogs now go into full bowl mode as practices will now be completely closed to all media and fans. They get back to work tomorrow afternoon and will roll through practices for the next two weeks.