Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Top Dog Receiver Raises His Expectations for November Stretch

He has the best completion percentage of the group. Certainly the best yards-per-throw and –catch averages. Heck, he’s even got the best ‘quarterback’ rating. So why shouldn’t Fred Ross be lobbying for more opportunities to show his arm?

Or make that, all his skills?

“Yeah, man, I’m really a wildcat quarterback!” Ross bragged. “We need to put some packages in for me!”

OK. One big pass does not a quarterback make. Not even a 34-yard completion. Such a gadget play does show, though, that there is more to wide receiver Ross’ game than catching lots of balls and occasionally running with one. He can throw the ball, too, if Mississippi State’s offense allows.

And why shouldn’t it? There’s nothing new to Bulldog receivers, especially those coming from the slot spot, turning passer. Jameon Lewis is the most recent and obvious example. To be fair he was a high school quarterback turned into a college receiver. Ross’ football career has been spent running routes.

But changing H-receivers hasn’t changed the job description. So given the chance Ross is ready to let another one rip, just as he did against Kentucky.

“I’ve heard a lot of social media, a lot of fans telling me good throw. I don’t know…”

The hesitation comes from a throw that was on the right line, just a little long. Fortunately De’Runnya Wilson is a longer-than-normal receiver. He lunged and hauled in the over-throw, making everyone look good. “He did, that was a great catch by Bear,” said Ross.

The successful pass play made it a good day for Ross, though in his regular role he had just two catches and 11 yards. No problem. The rest of State’s deep and versatile, or at least those healthy last week, were able to make up the difference as State defeated Kentucky and secured bowl eligibility for another winter.

Now Mississippi State (6-2, 2-2 SEC) heads to Missouri (4-4) for Thursday evening’s inter-Division matchup in prime time. The Bulldogs and Tigers both enjoyed a bye-week first, which went much more smoothly in Starkville to all appearances. While Missouri first got their suspended quarterback back, then had him sidelined for the rest of the season, at Mississippi State everyone went about business.

In the case of Ross and fellow regulars, it was a series of abbreviated working days. Everyone else was put in something resembling a pre-spring mode forecasting 2016 competitions. For Ross it was an interesting opportunity to reflect, not that long ago he was among the pups who didn’t get any open-date break.

“Man, it’s crazy how time flies. I remember being one of the young guys, just trying to make a name for myself.”

That name has been made, safe to say. Two months into his junior season Ross already has a team-best 40 catches, and a 10.8-yard average gain operating out of the slot.

“I’ve played alright. But I feel I can do way better, just as me.” The team’s top target and he wants better? Yes, Ross does.

“I mean that’s alright. But I still feel I have a lot of stuff to do. I do.”

Now the obvious aspect to suggest is, scoring. Last year Ross had five touchdowns among his 30 receptions as a split end. As a H he’s found the end zone and ball just once. But…this is not what concerns him in 2015.

Instead, “I feel like blocking,” Ross said. “I haven’t been the best blocker this year as far as just knocking guys out. I haven’t had a chance to just get my hat on somebody.”

To which one could counter that, say, Wilson has earned an excellent blocking reputation putting his hands on smaller cornerbacks. Ross is going to run into at least a safety, sometimes a linebacker, right?

“Yeah, but still I need to bring that element out of me. Just bring it to the game.”

Mississippi State needs all available elements for the November stretch-run beginning Thursday evening. The Bulldogs know they are bowl-bound again. Last year’s Orange Bowl week whetted the appetite for such high-profile events, though, so State players have become a bit picky about holiday destination.

“We’ve got to go one of the big bowls,” Ross said. “Get a chance to go out and see the world, that’s just the bigger the bowl the more the opportunity.”

And if this requires giving Ross more opportunities to show off the arm, well, he’s ready. Though, Ross is not ready to say he’s matched Lewis’ record as a passer.

“Because when Jameon threw the ball he threw touchdowns. I just threw a first down. So I guess I’ve got to give it to him right now.”

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