Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Second Bulldog Back Is First In Squad Rushing Through Two Games

Anyone correctly predicting Mississippi State’s leading rusher after two games, raise a hand. Both of them, even, for forecasting Brandon Holloway’s early-season successes.

As the Bulldog offense evaluates performance so far, seeking ways to get the overall ground game going, not much needs fixing for Holloway. Two games in and he tops the rushing chart with 88 yards and a 7.3 average. And, as the second back in the Bulldog rotation.

Not that his coach sees #10 as a number-two.

“I look at our two tailbacks and Ashton Shumpert goes out there for the first play of the game,” Dan Mullen said. “But their rep difference is not a whole lot. Brandon is basically a starting tailback right now.”

Holloway certainly has done a job getting something like a running attack started. He’s 20 yards ahead of big-back Shumpert on six fewer carries. And both are leading Dak Prescott’s running total, though his of course is penalized by sack-yardage losses.

Either way, here Holloway is off to a fast start as a rotation runner. “I’m trying to use my versatility in any way they need me. I’m trying to come in and make big plays whenever I can.”

Speed is why Holloway has big-play potential, as a 35-yard burst at Southern Mississippi showed. His longest run against LSU’s athletic secondary was 11 yards, but then that was the best carry by any Bulldog that night too. The irony is Holloway said his performance is picking up because the game has slowed down.

“Everything is a lot slower to me. I’m understanding it more and I think it’s made me better. I feel last year I was running more off instincts and what I already knew.”

Now he knows, and sees, more and it is showing. Fast footwork needs turning in the correct direction to go far at this level.

So, “I think now I’m actually better reading the fronts, reading the defense, and knowing where to make cuts.”

Yeah, cuts. This is a necessary component since, as LSU showed, cleared lanes are a SEC exception. Which raises the obvious question of can Mississippi State’s ground game ride the skinny shoulders of a 160 (maybe) pound runner?

“He’s definitely a feature back,” said Prescott. “ We have some big backs, so when he gets in there he can change it up, some different play calls for him to utilizes his speed along the edge and stretching the defense.”

But it isn’t on the edge where Holloway has been working often in September. By design or from necessity, more calls have pointed him into traffic. Holloway is fine with that.

“Because it’s all about yards. If I go up the middle and get three yards that’s a positive play. We’re trying to get yards and trying not to give away any keys or anybody running inside or running outside. And sometimes the inside ones are the easiest to break.”

That brings up an interesting aspect to State’s play book. Mullen and Prescott both say that whether it is Shumpert, Holloway, or either of the redshirt rookie runners, the plays are the same. It is how the different runners do it that differs.

“Because we have so many types of running backs,” Holloway said. “With Shump it might look like one thing; when D-Lee gets in it might look different. But we’re all essentially doing the same thing.”

With one exception: only Holloway returns kickoffs. His goal-to-goal touchdown dash at Southern Mississippi made that team change their kickoff tactics, and LSU was doubly-conscious of getting coverage set up when booting to Holloway.

As the Bulldogs recover from an opening SEC stumble much of the offense is getting a good going-over. This isn’t overlooking Northwestern Louisiana, not exactly. But Mullen clearly wants more efficient production in the non-conference contest before consecutive trips, to Western Division rivals Auburn and Texas A&M.

At the same time the staff and for that matter fans are eager to see what Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams have to offer. Holloway has seen them in for a year-and-half already and gives upbeat opinions.

“They’re going to be great backs. And it’s not going to be a problem getting them more touches throughout the year. It was the first game of the season, but they’ll get more.” Holloway also said that helping get these kids up to varsity speed has improved his own game.

“Going through the summer me, Shump, Aeris and D-Lee, we talked about all the plays. And helping younger people actually helped me get smarter.”


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