Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Mississippi State wide receiver coach Billy Gonzales discusses his group's on the field progress.

Mississippi State is breaking in a new starting quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. The talented sophomore has some talented passing targets to throw to, but that grouping is in transition this year as some talented newcomers look to replace some experienced difference makers. Wide receiver Coach Billy Gonzales believes that the Bulldog wide outs best games lie ahead.

"Its been kind of up and down when you look at some of the grades," Gonzales said. "All three of the guys who have played the significant amount of the snaps have, in my opinion, played darn good so far. Between Gabe (Myles), Donald (Gray) and Fred (Ross) those guys have all played solid. Even the back-ups to be honest with you have all played pretty good. They haven't played quiet as much. They played a good bit in the first game and then played kind of sparingly in the last two games.

"We have been open. We have been able to run by some of the defensive backs in the past two weeks. That's what I wanted to see. I know that we can control the short game, but I wanted to see if we could get by some of those guys on the back end. They have done a pretty job from that standpoint.

"I'm happy, but we need to more productive as far as I am concerned as far as making big plays. Again, we're going to be fine with underneath stuff, but the explosive plays, the ones you turn into 50 or 60 yard plays that's where we need to be more of an impact."

A staple of the Bulldog receivers under the direction of Gonzales has been great blocking. To put it bluntly, wide receivers who shy away from blocking on the perimeter will not see the field. So far, so good from Gonzales' vantage point.

"It's been pretty good," Gonzales said of his receivers' blocking grades. "Each week, Coach (Dan) Mullen will pull up the game plan with something we need to do to control the perimeter. Obviously, one of the things is that we have to block the perimeter with the guys and that's been pretty good. I have been impressed and I have been happy with the performance the guys have done on the perimeter with the exception of a couple of plays.

"We have to continue to get better. One of the things that we will always do is practice blocking every week. It's of major importance to us in this program to be able to control the perimeter run game. If you can do that, then that opens up so much for you offensively. Now the defense has to defend 53 and a 1/3 yards. We have to continue to be great at that."

Junior wide out Donald Gray got his SEC feet wet last year as a reserve in the Bulldog rotation. Now a starter, the Memphis, Tennessee native is beginning to come into his own.

"I think he's done a good job," Gonzales said of Gray. "Donald had an opportunity. Probably the best case scenario last year was for him to get a year under his belt of learning and getting the chance to play without being the guy every down. Donald has a motor. He just goes so hard. Everything he does, he goes so hard. We would like to be able to spell him every once in a while, so the reps you're getting are at 100%. 

"One of the things that we are trying to do is develop a back up for him to get him some rest. So if it's about moving guys around or getting Jamal (Couch) more involved it has to be done in practice. As far as Donald goes, he has done a great job and he's been behind the defense a couple of times. Now we just have to finish the play off and be successful in what we are trying to get done."

Gray's increased role in the Bulldog offense comes as no accident. The Co-Lin standout is generally the first wide out on the field and usually the last to leave. 

"It's awesome," Gonzales said of Gray's work ethic. "When he's got the desire to be great, that's what you want. Me and Coach Mullen walked out for practices today. We had a team meeting before we went out to practice, Donald sprints out of there and by the time you get to your office, put your ipad down and plug it in, Donald is already on the field. He's two fields away with the Juggs machine catching balls.

"I turned to coach and told him that the great thing about him right now is that he has the ability to lead. He has the ability to do it, because he works so hard and the players will follow him, because he has such a great work ethic. 

"It's fantastic to have a guy who is not scared to jump up and voice his opinion, but also has a great motor to work with."

With a pair of vocal leaders, Joe Morrow and De'Runnya Wilson, now gone from the wide receiver room, some other players have had to step up and lead. Gonzales reports that there is a collective effort to ensure things are done the right way.

"I think they're all doing it," Gonzales said. "Joe was the senior last year, but realistically Fred, Gabe and Donald all talked last year. Malik (Dear) has playing experience and Jesse (Jackson) talked. They all talked, so to say there is just one guy who jumps up and says 'Hey, this is what it is', I would say it is really more leadership as a group rather than an individual. 

"Fred is obviously the guy that everybody listens to. When he talks, everybody listens to what he says. That's a role as a captain that he has to embrace. That's something that he will need to continue to improve on.

"As far as the group goes, we have a tight knit group and they all have fun. They all communicate well with each other and they work hard."

The Bulldogs will take on UMASS later today on a neutral site in an important game for both programs. Mississippi State will look to take another step towards bowl eligibility. While the chance to play in a pro venue is always interesting, Gonzales reports that the opponent lined up across from the Bulldogs is the primary focus.

"A game is a game," Gonzales said. "They only real difference is that they have to pack their clothes for this one. Other than that, it's just a game. We have to prepare for a good game. They have played three games, one against an ACC team, one against an SEC team and they were fighting in the fourth quarter against both of those teams. 

"They won last week, so our guys know the importance and value of going up there and playing. It doesn't really matter if you play it in Massachusetts, Florida or California. It's a game. You're going to strap it up and go get ready to perform. You have to go compete.

"You have to have competitive excellence. You have to compete and make a play when your number is called no matter where you're at or what venue you're in. If you're a competitor, when the whistle blows you're ready to go."

The Bulldogs (1-2) will plan to be ready to go for a 2:30 kickoff at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. UMASS (1-2) enters the contest fresh off a win over FIU, Local TV affiliates and the ESPN broadcast mediums will handle the production and play by play.

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