“Going into the season I thought we had a pretty good group of receivers,” said Gonzales. “And I still do think that.”
Gonzales’ assessment is accurate. No less than ten Bulldog split ends, tight ends, or slot men have caught a pass through three games. Oh, and a trio of running backs too who have their own routes to run in Mississippi State’s expanding passing schemes for 2015. Top that with noticing seven, over half, of the pass catchers so far have scored a touchdown via the air.
The ‘so far’ part sticks out to Gonzales.
“It’s about developing and maximizing the potential of each individual. But we’re on pace right now where we need to be. We need to keep working but I’m excited about the group of guys I have.”
Everyone else is equally excited by the who-steps-up-this-game theme. In the win over Northwestern State it was split end Donald Gray grabbing headlines, with four catches and 140 yards including his first senior college touchdown.
This naturally had fans, never patient about touted transfers, demanding where Gray had been the first two weeks. Recovering from a hamstring issue, Gonzales explained. Which reminds there is usually a good reason for every who plays or who doesn’t.
Gray wasn’t the only big debut Dog in game-three. Slot receiver Gabe Myles got his first college touchdown (re: story filed Saturday) with 58 yards on two catches. And true freshman Malik Dear (see Tuesday video feature) turned three balls into 46 yards along with a couple of receiver rushes for his own first State score.
Some of this was the work of those newer/younger Dogs. Some was how the snaps were shared after State took a big lead. Fred Ross had a quiet day with one catch and a dozen yards, having caught 14 balls in the previous two games. Ross leads the list but has yet to find the end zone, as he did five times last fall.
So, what of De’Runnya Wilson? Many a wideout would be content after three weeks with 11 catches, 158 yards, a touchdown. Fans and media naturally ask why he isn’t playing a larger part in the plans?
He is. First by drawing defensive attention to his side of the field and away from everyone else, the ultimate show of SEC respect. Second by making his physical presence felt as a downfield blocker, something fans and media are actually noticing this year. And “I get equally excited about the blocking as I do the big plays,” Gonzales said.
OK, that takes some selling to ambitious ball players. But Wilson and crew have bought in. Besides, as Gonzales pointed out, say somebody catches 10, 15 passes in a game? “That means there’s 60 other times you’d better be blocking for your teammates.”
“They all want the ball, which I’m glad. I want guys that all want the ball. But we have one rock and it’s going to be distributed based on what they give us.”
They as in defenses. If this week Auburn goes into high sets guarding against Ross and tight end Gus Walley, outside receivers Wilson, Fred Brown, Gray can have big days. If the corners play things tighter in shell coverages, then watch for more inside looks.
Auburn has been allowing 59% completions through their own first three games, all against quality offenses though. And the yards-per-catch numbers show the Tigers do get a grip on receivers quickly.
Gonzales doesn’t study downfield coverage alone, though. “They’re solid across the board in my opinion, but you look at #1 (Montravius Adams) up front. He’s strong, quick, and powerful and plays well with his hands. Take a look at Cassnova (McKinzy) inside, (Kris Frost) on the perimeter.
“On the back end you have one guy that started 30-plus games at Michigan and another young man that started six games as a true freshman at Georgia. One corner led the team in tackles last year, and the other corner is All-SEC. so you have a veteran group of guys. But we’ve got to execute, be able to maximize every play to the fullest and execute.”
So, will someone new show up and execute at a winning level this week? Or somebody old who has taken a back-seat to the kids so far this season? Gonzales won’t play prophet. But if every Bulldog receiver is properly prepared, the coach can count on one rising to Saturday’s SEC opportunity. Or two. Or three, or…
“It’s all about developing that depth. One of the things we talk about here at Mississippi State is making sure we maximize the potential of each individual.”