2019 has been labeled as a transition year for Mississippi State football going back to when Dan Mullen was head coach, as you could see that the Bulldogs would be replacing a three year starter at quarterback along with a number of the top performers defensively two years ago. Now that season is upon us, and it will likely see the Bulldogs take a step back from last year’s 8-5 campaign, unless Joe Moorhead can ramp up production from last year’s stagnant offense to offset a defense that on paper should be less dominant than last year’s top rated unit. Let’s take a look at each position battle going on this spring, and see if we can project who will get the starting call when kickoff happens August 31 in the Superdome. Today, we’ll focus on the offense, where the Bulldogs will look replace Nick Fitzgerald’s incredible rushing numbers and improve upon the weaknesses he showed in the passing game.
Mississippi State quarterback Keytaon Thompson tonight after practice discussing being the veteran and if he feels any pressure to cement the starting QB role. pic.twitter.com/fvuNsXKFBt
— Joel Coleman (@JoelTColeman) March 8, 2019
Keytaon Thompson has had an interesting two years at Mississippi State. He played sparingly in his true freshman season until Fitzgerald’s injury in the Egg Bowl pressed him into action. He put up huge numbers on the ground in that game and the TaxSlayer Bowl, but from a passing standpoint, he has not shown that he’s any better than the man he’s replacing, a career 47.6 percentage. Despite all of Fitzgerald’s struggles a season ago, Moorhead never seriously considered making a move under center beyond giving Thompson one series against Texas A&M. Thompson will battle this spring with two freshmen, redshirt Jaylen Mayden and true frosh Garrett Shrader. Mayden might be the most polished passer of the trio, while Shrader bears the label of being Moorhead’s guy, the first quarterback recruited and signed by Moorhead since his arrival in Starkville. I think this will be a tough competition through the spring and into fall camp, and I do believe the job is truly up for grabs. I won’t be surprised if either of three end up with winning out, but for now, I think it Thompson’s gig to lose.
PROJECTED STARTER: Keytaon Thompson
Here's all 3⃣ of @HailStateFB RB Kylin Hill's TDs from Saturday! pic.twitter.com/RAzTRyqrah
— Stadium (@Stadium) September 9, 2018
To me, the story of Mississippi State’s 2018 season and why it disappointed on some levels, was Joe Moorhead’s inability or unwillingness to put the ball into the hands of now junior running back Kylin Hill, who was clearly the best playmaker on the Bulldog offense. Hill scored on his first touch of the year, a 50 yard touchdown reception, then turned in a 217 yard performance against Kansas State. After that breakout game, Hill only saw double digit carries twice more. It’s no surprise that in both games, Hill was over 100 yards and MSU won both games. Hill is the complete package at running back, and will be a star if Moorhead tailors the offense to feature him. Behind Hill, Nick Gibson has proven time and again to be a very capable backup. State is lacking depth here in the spring, as signees Lee Witherspoon and Kareem Walker won’t be on campus until this summer, so the Bulldogs have moved senior Alec Murphy back to his original position after a season at linebacker. This position is probably the easiest on the entire team to call, Hill will be the starter and hopefully the star of this year’s squad.
PROJECTED STATER: Kylin Hill
Stephen Guidry long pass that just comes up short of a TD. 3/130/1 #DevyWatch pic.twitter.com/9spGmC0t8J
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) October 28, 2018
You can pin a good part of Mississippi State’s struggles in the passing game on the play of its wide receiver corps. Stephen Guidry arrived as the nation’s top ranked JUCO receiver, and while he did lead State in receiving yards, he did not provide the big plays that were expected when he signed with the maroon and white. On that same note, sophomore Devonta Jason arrived with huge expectations, but he only saw two catches all season, prompting the question of why he was not redshirted. If it had not been for the surprise emergence of Osirus Mitchell, Mississippi State’s air attack might have been the nation’s worst. This group has to take a huge step forward in 2019 if the Bulldogs want to match last year’s eight wins. A season ago, the top five receivers on the team only caught 103 passes total, the number in 2019 needs to be over 150. I think Guidry and Mitchell will draw the early nod outside, with Deddrick Thomas, who has been capable as a target, in the slot, but Jason, Austin Williams, and perhaps summer arriving JUCO transfer Javonta Payton will need to play big roles.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Stephen Guidry, Osirus Mitchell, and Deddrick Thomas
This should be Dontae Jones scoring a TD. Couldn’t find a twitter account for him. pic.twitter.com/iGttwsQlLn
— Mary Barrett (@MaroonMary) September 2, 2018
It seems as if Bulldog fans have heard this tune every year since Malcolm Johnson’s final game in Starkville, that the tight end was going to be a big piece of the offense. 2018 was certainly not the case for that, as the position only combined for 33 catches between four different players, and 17 of those grabs graduated with Justin Johnson. Senior Farrod Green and junior Dontea Jones return, along with two promising redshirt freshman, Brad Cumbest and Geor’quarius Spivey. Neither Green nor Jones have shown much in terms of providing the explosive plays Moorhead craves from his offense. I will go out on a limb here and say that one of the youngsters is going to end up as the guy here, and my first instinct is Cumbest. My only concern is how limited being a full time member of the Bulldog baseball team makes him this spring, but I like what I have seen from him in practice.
PROJECTED STARTER: Brad Cumbest
Darryl Williams on the pull, showing he could have a great career as a bouncer if he needs it pic.twitter.com/C6aqfXJQzU
— Brett Hudson (@Brett_Hudson) November 23, 2018
Mississippi State returns three starters on the offensive line, losing two potential NFL Draft picks in Elgton Jenkins and Deion Calhoun. What the Bulldogs return is not only those three starters, but a number of guys who played meaningful snaps, plus two intriguing freshmen. It begins with Darryl Williams, who will likely join Jenkins and Calhoun in the pros next spring. He’s made the move to center, where he seems like a natural fit. Replacing him at left guard will be junior Dareuan Parker, with senior Tyre Phillips on the outside at left tackle. Phillips played both tackle positions a season ago in his redshirt junior campaign. On the right side, a couple of more position switches, as Stewart Reese has moved inside to guard, and Greg Eiland swapping sides to right tackle. Behind them, expect to see a lot of two seniors, Tommy Champion and Michael Story, both of whom can play either guard position, I actually think Story will beat out Parker. I will also be keeping an eye on redshirt freshman Kwatrivous “Dolla Bill” Johnson, and five star true freshman Charles Cross, an early enrollee and crown jewel of the Bulldogs’ 2019 signing class. They are clearly the future of the program along the offensive front, we’ll see what they can contribute this season.
PROJECTED STARTERS: LT Tyre Phillips LG Michael Story C Darryl Williams RG Stewart Reese RT Greg Eiland
Photo courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics