Spring practices are running strong in Oxford and Starkville. New players, new coaches, and a new year is underway for the two main Mississippi schools. This two part article I am going to explore the five wanted desires for each fan base heading into The Grove Bowl and Super Bulldog Weekend. Yesterday we covered Ole Miss today we will move on to………
5) Who Can Be The Next Big Running Back?
When I think of Mississippi State, I think of a powerful mauler that moonlights as a running back. I think of guys like Anthony Dixon, Jerrious Norwood, Vick Ballard, Josh Robinson, and the list can go on. But since Robinson, there hasn’t been just that explosive running back to make a splash…yet. Right now the job seems to be controlled by Kylin Hill (junior from Columbus). Hill, last season, rushed for 734 yards and 4 touchdowns with a shiny average of 6.3 yards per carry. Hill will need to be more consistent if he wants to lock down the RB1 position. Incoming this fall, will be former JUCO RB Kareem Walker who will have an even chance at achieving the RB 2 position in fall camp battles with Senior Nick Gibson.
4) Joe Moorhead’s Offensive Mastery Show
Before arriving in Starkville, Joe Moorhead was Penn State’s offensive coordinator. Additionally, he was acknowledged as one of the best offensive minds in college football. Fast forward to 2018, Moorhead’s first season as Head Coach, and most fans overwhelmingly feel that the offense was a let down. Now before we go any further remember, Joe had the likes of Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley on his roster. So it is a bit unfair considering the talent of those two players alone. Any who back to the golden triangle. Moorhead’s offense is designed to put players in one-on-one opportunities and situations. With that you need a quarterback that can pass the ball.
Nick Fitzgerald was not that.
Now let’s not take away from Nick, he was a dynamic ball carrier, a leader, and a thrower (not a passer). Seeing as that Fitzgerald is no longer with the team (graduation), hopefully we will see a passing quarterback come in and show what Joe has up his sleeves and that his offense is really up to snuff to hang with the big boys of the SEC.
3) Now Hiring: Starting Quarterback
Last season State ranked 13th in the SEC in passing offense. As mentioned in the last piece, Fitzgerald is no longer on the Bulldog roster. So hey, hey, hey we have us a quarterback competition down at Davis-Wade. Junior Keytaon Thompson is the fan favorite, in my opinion, as he was wanted by most Bulldog faithful to replace Fitzgerald last season. But for whatever reason, that was not in Coach Moorhead’s agenda. Notably also, Thompson is the only QB on the roster that has taken meaningful college football reps. The other 2 thoroughbreds in this race is Jalen Mayden (redshirt freshman) and Garrett Schrader (4-star signee). Expect this battle to go all the way into fall camp, but I expect Thompson to be the starter game 1. But his leash will be very short, Moorhead didn’t bring in the other two just to give play calls on the sideline.
2) The Wide Receivers to Step Up
It seems like it’s been an eternity since the Bulldogs had Fred Ross, Fred Brown, and De’Runnya Wilson. Since then, there seems to have been nobody to really just step up and be a household name receiver. The next thing that will be needed to make wish list item #3 to happen is that there has to be consistency and development at the wide receiver position. Last year was the 2nd year in a row that no Bulldog receiver has caught more than 27 passes. Can we blame that on Nick Fitzgerald. Absolutely! But we are done beating up Nick in this article, so let’s leave him alone. The bright side for the maroon and white is that practically everyone is back this season to catch the ball. Stephen Guidry, Osirus Mitchell, and Devonta Jason can make the most of this spring and be the trio of wide receivers that Bulldog fans would be happy to ring a cowbell to.
This whole article, to this point, has been about the offense. However, the toughest task for Coach Joe will be replenishing a defense from 2018 that was absolutely elite. Montez Sweat, Jonathan Abram, and Jeffrey Simmons are all gone due to graduation or to go make big dollars in the NFL. The 2018 defense ranked number 1 in all of college football in total defense and the bulk of that is gone now. But put down the paper bag and quit breathing so heavily, State should be fine. Do I think they will be the top defense in the land again? No. However, they should still be a challenge for opposing offenses. Chauncey Rivers will be expected to lock down the edge that is now vacant from Montez Sweat’s departure. The linebacker corps will have a returning Leo Lewis, Willie Gay, and Errol Thompson so if anything we should see improvement due to experience. In the secondary Cameron Dantzler returns at corner and I fully expect to see Fred Peters to fulfill Jonathan Abram’s former role, Peter’s tape is very comparable to Abrams. The biggest concern will be the interior defensive line and how it will operate if someone is unable to eat up block like Simmons did.
The Maroon and White game will be Saturday April 13th at 1pm at Davis-Wade Stadium in Starkville. The game will be televised on ESPNU and admission is free.