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Rookie Receiver Can Put Punch in Bulldog Ground Game, Too

An injury to one regular interior receiver and playmaker is nothing to dismiss lightly. But it easier to accept when his replacement bring something to get really excited about.

And Malik Dear is definitely a Dog to bark about.

Amidst frustrations in their 30-17 loss at Texas A&M, fans of the Bulldogs did come out buzzing over the offensive play of the evening. OK, and with another sort of frustration about the true freshman’s current place in Mississippi State gameplans…and how that could, even should change.

Dear’s big breakout moment arrived in the second quarter, with his team already down 17-3 and barely clinging to competitiveness. Things looked even worse with a third-and-long, as a quick punt would have put the Aggies in position to put the evening out of reach early. It took a couple of proven stars to save this situation, as QB Dak Prescott went to WR De’Runnya Wilson for a catch-and-run worth 19 yards.

Suddenly State was on their own 48 and the Aggies looking for more of the same sort of first down deals the Dogs had shown so far. Not this time. From the left-slot position Dear pulled out and came around for Prescott’s handoff. It was setting up as a wide sweep but RT Justin Senior opened a crease and Dear alertly saw it.

And, hit the burners. The speed was what kept an Aggie defender from getting in tackling position around the 20 so Dear could shuck that threat off. All he needed was one last downfield block and Wilson provided it so Dear could dash untouched to the goal. Dear’s first college points had come on a 52-yard bolt of lightning.

Count Prescott as not surprised a bit to see the talented true freshman show up.

“We’ve just been waiting for that,” Prescott. “He’s an explosive player, hard to tackle, we knew it was going to come soon. That’s just the first of many great touchdowns I believe.”

That debut TD came on Dear’s ninth official touch of his true freshman season, too. He came in with two rushes and six catches for 81 total yards. But, even his short gains showed huge potential and why early in spring ball it was clear the kid was going to play immediately.

Then after ripping off what would be over one-fourth of his team’s rushing yardage in one snap, Dear did not get another carry. He did have a couple of plays called but as things developed only two catches came his way, for 23 yards. Thus the obvious post-game question about playing time or perceived lack of it.

“At times he got banged-up and he was out of the game for a little bit,” Coach Dan Mullen clarified. “He came back in. But we’re just mixing it up, moving the ball different places. He did a good job.”

WR Fred Ross was more gushing. “That touchdown was amazing. We’ve got to find ways to keep getting him the ball.” Mind, this is a Dog receiver talking about a kid listed as his backup. Realistically both can be on the field in sets that don’t require a tight end in a slot, so Dear won’t take snaps away from Ross. Touches, yes. Ross is fine with that.

“Malik’s very explosive, very dynamic. He’s basically another tool we can use more. He’s basically another running back so having him is big-time.”

And there Ross cracks the door on an increasingly-pressing question. With no one Bulldog running back stepping forward so far—it can be debated if the youngest pair have had enough chances—could Dear be an answer?

He certainly is a threat at slot receiver and with Myles now gimpy giving up the depth might not be ideal.

But, Dear was a high school running back and just seems best-suited for a backfield job, getting the ball without having to run so far first. The topic will be raised this week of course.

Mullen seems willing to consider options for Dear.

“We always think he’s a pretty good player when the ball is in his hands. As a young player he’s still got a lot of growing to do. And he’s going to continue to be a factor in our offense.”

A larger factor surely. Not just from his own play, but the still-uncertain situation of WR Gabe Myles. The sophomore got his left leg in a bad pileup during the third quarter, and post-game needed crutches to get around with a boot on his left foot.

Of course starting slot receiver Fred Ross is the team’s top target this year and he’s just fine. But Mississippi State has several sets using two true slot wideouts, when a tight end isn’t involved. Ross and Myles have been on the field together presenting issues to defenders. Now with Dear in the mix? Yeah, larger factor for sure.

Dear was not requested for Saturday’s postgame press meeting. But in the interview room the first request for his appearance Tuesday was filed.

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