It was a breakout sort of evening for a rookie who is barely beginning to show what he offers the Mississippi State offense. And still, "Big-time players make big-time plays," Wilson shrugged as if he'd done nothing more than the expected. "So I tried to make a big-time play."
Plays, he should say. His reaching snag of a short, sharp jump-pass by Dak Prescott showed not just skills but reaction speed in close end-zone quarters. But it was on the second score that Wilson's gifts were really displayed, as with a defender in front of him Wilson used his body to get position, go up and make the grab of a Tyler Russell lob. Just as such plays are schemed-up but so seldom work out.
If Wilson comes across low-key, consider the head coach. Dan Mullen wasn't a bit surprised to see Wilson deliver for the Dogs this first college fall…or against the Aggies for that matter. "He's a guy that in training camp we thought made some plays, continued to develop. And you look at he has some good matchups on Saturday."
Matchups that Mississippi State picked up during the week's scouting and installation, meaning a larger role for the tallest target in the roster. It needs noting Wilson did not start; the same trio that has opened other games this season got first turns. And they all did the jobs with wideouts Robert Johnson and Joe Morrow and slot-man Jameon Lewis combining for eight catches and 81 yards with a touchdown for Morrow, his first of the season and career.
But afterwards Wilson was who everyone wanted to talk with and talk about. It wasn't just the one big day in and of itself, though his stats and scores certainly merited attention. It was the fact that in a single game Wilson nearly matched his total production of the previous month. In the four-game stretch leading up to the A&M trip, Wilson had caught six balls for 126 yard and a single score, against LSU. He didn't even have a catch against Kentucky.
At the same time Wilson didn't get down on himself or what sorts of rotation roles he was drawing.
"I mean, hard work will bring anybody out of their shell. Me working hard and Coach (Billy) Gonzales pushing me to the limit, Jameon and Rojo getting 100% out of me at practice, that's what really made a difference in me growing. And having confidence in the offense."
In fact, Mullen explained that the offense was as much a factor in why Wilson rose to the forefront in game-nine. "I think a lot of people look at statistics and say ‘wow he had such a huge game, where's he been?'" Mullen said today. "Sometimes it's the matchups and it's the looks you get. He had some matchups on Saturday and we took advantage of the matchups with him . You don't always get that."
Or maybe not up until now. Wilson did indeed draw notice back in August when in the handful of open practices he quickly became a favored target of all Dog quarterbacks. His height was one obvious reason; Mullen has talked since the first season about signing and developing taller split ends and at 6-5 Wilson definitely stands out.
Yet this rookie had more than altitude, he had genuine aptitude for the position…and even better, Wilson showed athletic gifts which have barely been tapped. A genuine two-sport star in high school, he in fact was recruited as much for basketball as football by many a college. The only down-side to his situation was a lack of sheer receiver experience compared to the typical incoming freshman.
Fortunately this is one youngster who actually might become a better college receiver because he hasn't been set in any wideout-ways. Or perhaps better said, he recognizes how much he doesn't know about running routes and catching balls and making blocks and all that stuff…and thus is willing to be taught the right way, right from the Bulldog-beginning.
"Every day I learn something new," Wilson said. "My hard work and determination have put me at a high level, I just try to do the little things and that takes care of the big things." Such talk is music to many a coach's ears after trying to take young receivers who have done things their own way and modify them to fit college reality.
"But the great thing is you look at what he did when we had a good matchup, he went and made the play," Mullen said. "And that's what we need to do. We are very young at the receiver position, there's not a senior in the room. De'Runnya has done a good job of taking steps forward, but other guys have as well."
Most obviously Lewis, who had by his standards a low-key Saturday with just two catches and 14 yards. But this was after consecutive seven-catch games for the junior, the third out of the last four contests in fact, which has defenses focused on #4…and opening up coverages for Wilson, Morrow, Johnson and the tight ends as well. Or now the running backs, as LaDarius Perkins caught his first touchdown pass of the senior season. "It's great to see them develop," said Mullen of all the underclassmen route-runners.
Just in time for this make-or-break stretch of Mississippi State's season, as the 4-5 Bulldogs need two wins out of the final three games to earn a bowl berth. Big things were expected from the passing game this season and it's taken two months for some parts to find their places.
Such as Wilson, who has to claim an increasing part in the plans after working for his turn. "Coach told us all year about us having accountability and trust," Wilson said. "Dak and Tyler counted on me to go out and make the play, they trusted in me and I trusted in them to throw the ball."
As he develops in his scholarship sport, Wilson's other game has just gotten underway. He was signed with a loose understanding the chance of getting onto the Humphrey Coliseum court would be there following the season. Mullen said today he's not discussed Wilson's status with Coach Rick Ray yet. "Because it's football season still. So when football ends, and hopefully in January, sometime after we're done we'll make the transition with him getting ready to go into basketball. But Rick and I have a real good relationship so let's make sure we're taking care of De'Runnya."
Wilson is willing to double-up the Bulldog duty, has been since the day he arrived. "I had an opportunity and I wanted to take advantage of every bit of my opportunity. I had a chance to come play football and basketball and that's what I did."
For now though it's football first and only. And even after what others regard as a breakout game…Wilson still isn't convinced it was all that big a deal. Such as when he was asked how he felt about his play Saturday.
"I've got a lot of learning to do. And I don't know the feeling of a big-time SEC wide receiver. So I don't know how I feel."