Bulldog Backfield Counted on for Greater November Production

Ask Brandon Holloway how he’d like the rest of this season to play out, and the answer is pretty easy. “I hope just the way it was against Kentucky.”

Good choice. In Mississippi State’s most recent game, it was Holloway’s evening to shine. He picked up 36 rushing yards and averaged 6.0 each time toting in what is his primary running back job. Then working out of the backfield as a passing option, Holloway turned five receptions into 98 more yards.

Oh, that included both a 63-yard catch-and-dash to set up one touchdown; and an earlier eight-yard connection with Dak Prescott for his own score. Add in 38 yards on a couple of kickoff returns, and Holloway contributed 172 all-purpose yards.

A career-high, of course. So yes, Holloway wouldn’t mind more such performances.

“Run the ball a little, catch the ball, do good on special teams. I just want to be a versatile player.”

Holloway certainly fits that category within Mississippi State’s offense. He will take his turns, usually the first turn in fact, as starting running back. The ‘speed’ back of the bunch that is. His open-space speed is also why Holloway can be a factor in passing plans, turning short throws into consistent gains with a legitimate breakaway potential.

And while he hasn’t had a really big return since opening night…that goal-to-goal gallop at Southern Mississippi did produce Mississippi State’s first touchdown of 2015. It isn’t coincidence that opponents either boot kickoffs the other way or as far as they can into the end zone to minimize Holloway’s chances.

It is his first job though where the November spotlight shines. Not so much on or for Holloway per se, but the ongoing process of building a genuine Bulldog rushing game. It’s been a slog.

For four SEC games, State is averaging just 124.8 yards on the ground. That’s next-to-last, and coincidentally ahead only of Thursday’s opponent Missouri at 96.2 yards. But…in that last game before a bye-week the Bulldogs had something like a breakout day. They ran for 204 yards against Kentucky. Last year it would have been a modest output; in 2015 is serious progress.

“I think we did well running the ball all-around,” Holloway said. “Dak did a great job running the ball, too, so I think that was working.” Did it ever. Prescott ground out 117 of those rushing yards himself, not to mention three touchdowns.

Did it signal a return to the Dak Attack of last year? Not really, Holloway said. Nor has he heard any real pressure from the offensive staff to blow it open on the ground as before. “I mean, we don’t talk about it. We know we still had to work on it a little more, get a few more key blocks, things such as that.

“Just being efficient. We talk about it every day we want to be efficient running the ball. Because running the ball opens up so much more in the offense.”

Like, those out-of-backfield pass plays that are more like long handoffs. No surprise that Holloway had the big gainer that way, either. Remember that he was converted into a receiver as a freshman, before returning to his old high school job in the Bulldog backfield last year. So he knows something about running routes already.

And lately, “I’ve been working a lot more with the receiving. So I guess it’s starting to catch up with me so I can help in the offense.”

This is the month State’s offense has to take it up another notch. Or three. November presents a group of heavyweight defenses and Missouri ranks with the best, based on what Holloway has scouted.

“They’re definitely a great defense. They run to the ball, they have really good d-linemen. I think they really have their own little scheme going, they do a lot of stunting and twisting with their d-linemen and that causes a lot of problems.”

As if the linebackers aren’t problem enough. Holloway noticed one Tiger immediately, and not just because he shares a #10 with Kentrell Brothers. “He’s leading in tackling and he runs to the ball.” When Holloway said leading he didn’t just mean on the Tiger defense. Brothers leads the whole SEC with over 12 tackles per game.

Both squads had an open weekend to scheme it up for Thursday’s battle, too. The Tigers are on home turf, and likely wet turf too given the unfriendly forecasts. The Bulldogs? They should have emotional momentum of their own after a three-win streak. The last of which, Holloway can hope, provides a template not just for his own November.

“I think it was a pretty good game all-around, for special teams, offense, and defense. And I think we played with a lot of passion out there, which I liked too.”

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