Run routes and catch passes, he means. And while there can always be questions in shuttling whole corps on and off the field by series, even by play situation, this season’s results certainly stand up to scrutiny. Different Dogs have seized their opportunities each week, each opponent, and made Mississippi State’s passing game produce at unprecedented levels.
It isn’t always easy telling these talented wideouts to wait their turns, Gonzales admitted. “There’s one ball. Everybody wants the rock.” The good news is instead of sulking about sitting series, rotation is keeping every Bulldog body involved with the game. When not on the field, receivers compare notes of what they’ve seen, discuss suspected weaknesses in coverages, suggest adjustments, and so on.
Then once lined-up? It’s full-speed ahead, just as Gonzales wants.
”Our guys are getting around half the reps, and know when my turn comes I’ve got to give 100%,” the coach said. Plus, “We’re not losing any speed in the fourth quarter.”
The rotation idea really took shape back in spring ball, once Coach Dan Mullen and staff were certain they had enough truly talented receivers to work with. That fact alone shows just how far Mississippi State’s receiver recruiting has come, because when Mullen arrived one fact that leaped out at this offensive-minded head coach was a real lack of play-makers to run routes.
Even as late as last December, the offensive staff wasn’t comfortable taking the most proven players out for many plays. “Last year we didn’t feel that,” Gonzales said. “Now you feel good. These guys have had two years under their belts and they’re playing that way.”
Experience counts all the more now that the most seasoned of the whole bunch is sidelined. WR Jameon Lewis has tried to return from a leg injury with limited snaps against Kentucky and Arkansas, and skipped the Tennessee-Martin game entirely. Gonzales hopes the senior slot man returns soon, but in the interim…
”Obviously I’ve love to have J-Lew back but without him I feel we’re two-deep across the board.” Or three-deep with WR Fred Ross moving from split end and earning team offensive MVP for the Arkansas game in an adjusted position. Second-year freshman Gabe Myles is his alternate, with true rookie Jamoral Graham taking advantage of a late-game opportunity to score his first college touchdown against UTM.
”With Jameon down, what we did was move Fred to alternate with Gabe,” Gonzales said of the H-slot lineup. WR De’Runnya Wilson takes first turns at one split end, and now WR Fred Brown has moved up where Ross had been rotation.
And the older Dogs? “RoJo (WR Robert Johnson) has been steady and solid and does his job,” Gonzales said. “We moved Joe (Morrow), he’s rotated at X and Z positions, without Jameon he’s moved full-time Z.” And while they aren’t part of his position group, the tight ends do fall under Gonzales purview as passing game coordinator. Which works out fine since TE Malcolm Johnson, TE Brandon Hill, and TE Gus Walley are all factors in the downfield schemes.
”That’s the biggest thing, when you’ve got guys who can play,” Gonzales said. “It gives us more options, when guys can learn other positions.”