Mississippi State Will Utilize WR’s in 2012
By Freddie Vickers
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Seniors Chad Bumpus, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith combined for 90 receptions for 1,111 yards in 2011.
Mississippi State rolls into 2012 off a 2011 season where they finished up with 7-6 record, good for just fifth in the SEC West. The faithful in Starkville are starting to get anxious, and they want year four of the Dan Mullen era to show drastic improvement. The Bulldogs return 12 starters, four on offense and eight on defense. The Bulldog offense comes off a spring where they looked to transition to more of a pass-first attack. Coach Dan Mullen is definitely playing to the strength of his ball club by looking to throw the ball a little more.
Gone is running back Vic Ballard, who had been a staple in the backfield during the last three years. Ballard set the school record for touchdowns in 2010 and then came back in 2011 and rushed for 1,189 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The strength of this Mississippi State offense is the wide receivers. The Bulldogs return what may be the best trio of receivers in the SEC. Seniors Chad Bumpus, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith combined for 90 receptions for 1,111 yards in 2011. If these guys aren’t the best trio in the conference, they’re definitely the most experienced. If Mississippi State is going to break through in the SEC West in 2012, these three guys are going to have to have a huge year.
The Bulldog passing attack will also rely on a couple of younger guys. Freshman Joe Morrow and sophomore Jameon Lewis should add speed and depth to an already loaded receiving corps. This corps has size, speed and possession ability. Joe Morrow could be State’s primary deep threat. Morrow is 6’4”, 205 pounds, and has the ability to get behind defenders and play jump balls with his size. Lewis is a smaller guy who is shifty. He can make defenders miss, as he showed in the Bulldogs' spring game, where he had 10 receptions for 144 yards. Morrow followed his sophomore counterpart with six catches for 97 yards in the Bulldogs' annual Maroon/White Game.
When Dan Mullen opens fall camp in August, he will prepare for the season with six returning receivers that have combined for 284 catches, 3,574 yards and 28 touchdowns throughout their career. Those are great numbers, especially if you are transitioning to a different offensive philosophy and breaking in a new quarterback.
Junior Tyler Russell will take the reigns of this Bulldog offense in 2012. Russell has experience, as he has had meaningful snaps over the last two years, sharing playing time with departed quarterback Chris Relf. In the spring game, Russell completed 24 of 43 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns. Russell took his performance personal during spring practice, as he wanted the fans to know that he is for real and that everyone on the Mississippi State offense is on the same page.
The Bulldog offense definitely needs to be on the same page. At times in 2011, their offense was shut down in the fourth quarter of close games which the Bulldogs either led or were fighting to win. Dan Mullen’s squad fought LSU tooth and nail for three quarters before their inability to move the football on offense caught up with them. Mississippi State also blew a game on the Plains against Auburn in which they led big, then eventually were outgunned in the fourth quarter. Yet another example was a 14-12 loss versus South Carolina in Starkville; A game the Bulldogs seemed to have in control until a late touchdown gave the Gamecocks the victory. Much of this inability to move the football could be attributed to quarterback Chris Relf. Relf just didn’t have the arm to go win games through the air in the fourth quarter. Not to put it all on Relf, when he dropped back to pass he was running for his life a lot of the time. Offensive line play has not been a strength under Mullen and that is not expected to change in 2012.
Along with shifting more to the pass, Mullen has decided to look at employing more two tight end sets. Sophomores Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill will definitely be on the field together in 2012. This will not only help the passing game, but will also be a key cog in the running game. Johnson and Hill combined for 185 yards receiving in one of the Bulldogs' spring scrimmages.
Tight ends coach Scott Sallach is excited, saying, “I think they can do a lot of great things for us.”
Mississippi State has the ability to have a big year in 2012. The schedule sets up nicely, as the Bulldogs could start the season 7-0 before traveling to Alabama on October 27. The Bulldogs get Auburn and Tennessee at home in the first two months of the season and only have road games at Troy and Kentucky before that trip to
Tuscaloosa. If quarterback Tyler Russell can get time from his offensive line to take control of this offense and get the ball to his experienced receivers, the Bulldogs can definitely make some noise in the SEC West in 2012 and finally defeat an SEC West opponent other than Ole Miss. This will be a feat that Mullen has not accomplished in his three years on the job in Starkville.