Yeah. Sounds strange for sure. Then again Fred Ross has evidence on his side. He’s seeing it every day this week as the Bulldogs review last year’s blowout of Southern Mississippi. En route to a 49-0 opening-day win, Mississippi State had 19 plays which netted ten or more yards. And of those, an even dozen plays produced gains in the 20s, even 30s.
Did the Bulldog offense take Scott Field that day looking to rack up big yards on every snap? Not according to wide receiver Ross.
“We had a lot of big plays, a lot of twenty-yard-plus plays. And we just went out there and executed and we came out on top.”
Ross had his own big plays that day, catching three balls for 61 yards and notching his first college touchdown. Touchdowns, rather, as he scored on receptions of 35 and 21 yards against those overmatched Eagles. His stats were just part of a 550-yard output which set the entire season’s statistical tone.
Now. A year later and a new season. Expectations for the 2015 Bulldog offense are even greater. So, how does this squad exceed alllllll those records set in 2014, Mr. Ross?
“I mean we all just go out there and do our job and let the little things take care of themselves.”
The ‘we’ is key. Ross of course is projected to make up half of an exceptional, even extraordinary tag-team with De’Runnya Wilson. With ‘Bear’ working from split end and Ross now operating out of an interior slot, Mississippi State must present mismatch-up nightmares in the passing game. And that isn’t even allowing for what Fred Brown, Joe Morrow, Gabe Myles, Donald Gray, etc. and so on should provide in Dan Mullen’s multiple-receiver sets.
It is more than just their collective talents which set up this wideout corps for greater things. Or, that all-everything candidate Dak Prescott is back to distribute the ball as a presumably more refined and effective passer.
Mississippi State is rebuilding a big part of the ground game since Josh Robinson shuffled off to the NFL Sure, in time Ashton Shumpert, Brandon Holloway, and a pair of exciting redshirts should fill this bill. Until they prove it…
…Ross said it’s up to the receivers to establish the attack. “Because we need to take the pressure off Dak. You know, we lost Josh who was a very good running back. But I think (Ashton) Shumpert will do a great job. We just have to take that load off both of them, really.”
Taking pressure off the passer and runner(s) only puts more pressure on defenses, something Mullen and coordinators John Hevesy and Billy Gillespie intend of course. Done right, Prescott can hopefully be selective about his own rushing responsibilities and let a deep, versatile, if not entirely proven group of skill personnel show their stuff.
It’s that much more important every Bulldog brings something to the table, the field rather Saturday evening. Yes, 2014 was a blowout and would have been even more lop-sided had, as Mullen reminded, State been better in first half red-zone situations. Still it was an easy 2014 opener.
2015? This rematch is more intriguing because so much about the Eagles is unknown and unknowable. Their defense ought be much improved by addition of new players and return of some hard-seasoned and now-healthy personnel who survived the last year or three. State has a general idea of the schemes, but until the ball is snapped the skills can’t be compared.
Ross is not concerned. He’s not cocky, either. Just not concerned that the Bulldogs, offense and defense and special squads alike, will arrive ready for the debut. Not at all.
“We’re excited. We’ve all been working hard all summer so we’re just ready to see what all that had work is going to translate to. Just ready for Saturday.” Ross was not around the last time Mississippi State opened on another school’s campus. He’s lucky because that was 2008 at Louisiana Tech.
Still the junior has an idea of what conditions in Hattiesburg should be. “Oh yeah, definitely. Because those guys, they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder, it’s going to be a hostile environment. We’re just ready for it.”
If the Bulldogs are really, really ready, it should be an efficient and short evening for much of the starting squad. For that matter Mullen wants to get the second-line Dogs and other backups into live action regardless of situation and to some extent score. Fans certainly want to see the freshmen quarterbacks on field and under fire the first time, even if that cuts into Prescott’s turns to pile up big numbers of his own.
Ross is confident in Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley, that they’ll be prepared just fine. “We’re going to work on it at practice today. We’re going to go out there and make sure they’re ready.”
Ross certainly is ready. So are the rest of the receivers. Their real competition may not even be the, well, competition. With so many talented targets running routes Bulldog wideouts might end up begging in the huddle for their turns. Right?
Nah. “We all like to see each other do good,” Ross said. “So the more pressure to do good, we’re happy. And when we do good we’re also happy. We love football so we all go out there and compete.”