MSU Football

 Unless otherwise noted, all articles on this page were either written by Jeremiah Short or were taken from press releases submitted to us. Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.
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Scott Ready to Be a Bulldog

Devante Scott, a Copiah-Lincoln Junior College rising sophomore, was originally slated to be a Mississippi State Bulldog after high school. He failed to qualify, and decided to go to junior college. Scott had a good freshman year, with 19 catches for 386 yards, garnering him 2nd team All-State honors.

“The speed changed from high school. I had to get used to the environment and gameplay,” said Scott, talking about the adjustments to the college level.

The Bulldog coaching staff stuck with the talented playmaker –
re-offering him after the 2011 season. Scott cast his lot to be a Bulldog, once more.

Scott’s comfort with the Bulldogs’ spread offense is one of the main reasons he re-committed.

“They want to throw the ball, a lot, and I think their offense just fits me. They even told me that they want me to make plays, when I do come,” said Scott.

The Bulldogs are moving toward becoming a passing team under Tyler Russell, and Scott is an important piece in that scheme. Scott discussed what his role will be in 2013.

“They’ve been telling me when I come up there, they are going four and five receivers. I’m thinking, slot receiver”.

Scott believes that there are areas he can improve in, before he reaches Starkville: “[I] want to work on speed and route-running.”

The versatile athlete certainly plans to improve on his 2011 output.

“I want to do more than I did, last year; make more plays than I did, last year,” said Scott.

It will be over a year before Scott steps onto the field as a Bulldog, but the wait will be well worth it.

“I’m just an all-around player. Whatever they need me to do – I’m going to do it.”

Originally Published in the June 6, 2012 Print Edition

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MSU-Ole Miss Rivalry

The football rivalry between Mississippi State and Ole Miss is older than I am, and, probably, older than most of the people reading this column, right now. Some even believe the root of the rivalry dates back to the very founding of the two universities. Ole Miss was founded for the state’s elite, in 1848, while Mississippi State was established in 1878, due to Ole Miss’ inability to expand their university to accommodate agricultural students. The football rivalry, which is the nation’s tenth-longest, didn’t begin until 1901, when Mississippi State was known as Mississippi A&M.

The annual game didn’t become the “Egg Bowl” until a violent incident after the 1926 game. Students of both schools proposed that a “Golden Egg” be awarded to the winner of the match-up. Ole Miss leads the series all-time, 60-42-6. There have been eras where one team has dominated the game – Mississippi State from 1911-1925 (Ole Miss was winless); Ole Miss from 1944-1969 (Mississippi State only won four times); for the past three years, Mississippi State has dominated.

The game has provided some great moments: the “Immaculate Deflection” (1983); “The Stand” (1992); “The Pick and The Kick” (1999); and “The Comeback” (2007). The rivalry certainly provided some special moments for both sides – even if there is no love lost between the Bulldogs and Rebels.

I think with everything that I mentioned above, the next statement will come as a shock, “It’s time the Egg Bowl rivalry comes to an end.”  I don’t say this lightly, as I am aware of the significance of the game to fans on both sides, but I have two good reasons the game should end.

First, I feel the game should end for recruiting purposes, which is the lifeblood of any Division I program. The toxicity that exists between Ole Miss and Mississippi State has led to some nasty recruiting battles that have painted both schools in a negative light, at times.

The recruitments of Robert Elliot and C.J. Johnson are two examples. Elliot infamously switched his commitment, on signing day, to Mississippi State, after a tense recruiting battle, where it is said things got to the point that Bulldog and Rebel coaches came to blows (never confirmed, obviously). Johnson was a commitment to Mississippi State for over a year, de-committed, and then signed with the rival Rebels, on signing day. There was an article published by “Yahoo.com”, in which Johnson stated that Mississippi State fans made his life “a living hell”. Recruiting battles like this are fairly common with heated rivalries, across the country, but most schools can take in the publicity; I don’t feel Mississippi State or Ole Miss can sustain the public relations hits.

I think it puts in-state recruits in a position to leave the state to avoid the heat of competing fan bases. Out-of-state recruits have attended both schools, but I wonder if more prospects would consider the Mississippi schools, if there was less heat amongst the colleges. To be realistic, they don’t even recruit the same athletes. Ole Miss started to put a focus on out-of-state players, a few years back – while targeting the top in-state prospects. Mississippi State has taken the exact opposite strategy – focusing on Mississippi players. So, why is there all the beefing over recruits, when they don’t even recruit the same ones?

The second and final reason is that I feel that the rivalry isn’t necessary, anymore. I know some might call that claim “blasphemous”, but what, exactly, are they fighting over, “the right to not be last in the SEC West”?  I would think that beating LSU, Alabama, or Arkansas should be the goal. Ole Miss fans have stated that their real rival, in recent years, has been LSU, but, who do they think they are fooling? The Bulldogs are their rival, and we all know it. There are rivalries, nationally, that are heated – Georgia-Florida, Ohio State-Michigan, and Auburn–Alabama – are three that come to mind. The difference between those and the Egg Bowl rivalry is that the other institutions are national contenders and are actually fighting over something significant, when they play each other. Ohio State and Michigan played for the right to play in the national title game, just six years ago. The Egg Bowl has never been played for those types of stakes. So, I ask, why doesn’t the focus change to bigger fish?

There are some alums of both Ole Miss and Mississippi State, whose heads have probably exploded, by now, but I’m hoping they at least consider what I’m saying. As a Mississippian and a graduate of one of the institutions (Mississippi State), I want to see both programs succeed. That is why I’m proposing that the Egg Bowl and the rivalry, in general, end.

Do you feel that the Egg Bowl rivalry should end?

Originally Published in the May 30, 2012 Print Edition

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 Wilson-led Defense Could Dominate In 2012

Through the years, the Mississippi State defense has always been a strong unit. It has always given Mississippi State fans something to brag about. Innovative defensive coordinators Joe Lee Dunn, Ellis Johnson, and Manny Diaz all masterfully headed the group, at various times. The next great defensive play-caller, Chris Wilson, is poised to join that impressive list.  

Wilson was elevated to the signal-caller role in 2011, after Diaz took the same position at Texas. Some members of the fan base questioned the direction of the defense, under Wilson, but he alleviated those concerns, after some early struggles. The Mississippi State defense ended up finishing 20th, nationally, in scoring defense, allowing 19.9 points per game.

Newly-hired Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin inquired about Wilson taking over his Aggie defense. After some consideration, the Dallas, Texas native decided to stay at Mississippi State for a third year (second as defensive coordinator).

Although the Bulldogs lost defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (12th overall pick of 2012 NFL Draft), the MSU defense is poised to dominate, in 2012. Some people may disagree with my assessment, but I based this statement on several factors.

The first is continuity; the Bulldogs will have the same defensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006 (Ellis Johnson). I think having the same voice lead the defense will pay huge dividends. It can be a challenge getting used to a different coordinator, every year – each with his own system. The players now understand what Wilson expects. They can go out and just play, free of the worry of incurring Wilson’s ire.

Wilson also has some toys to play with at the defensive end position – Shane McCardell and Denico Autry (a junior college transfer) – each of whom should provide a true pass-rush. They bring a dynamic that has been missing since Titus Brown (former All-SEC defensive end) graduated. The increased pressure off the edges will shorten the opposing quarterback’s decision-making window, which should lead to more interceptions. Fans might actually hear commentators say “and with pressure off the edge” for the first time in a while.

Heading into 2011, the linebacking core was considered the weak link of the defense; it is now the strength. Cam Lawrence and Deontae Skinner lead the way – combining for 192 tackles and 15 tackles for loss in 2011. They are supported by talented youngsters: Chris Hughes, Bernardrick McKinney, Ferlando Bohanna, Christian Holmes, and Matt Wells. It is, possibly, the greatest collection of 2nd level defenders the Bulldogs have featured, in recent memory.

The final reason that I believe that the defense could dominate are lockdown corners Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Banks was expected to be getting ready for an NFL mini-camp, about this time, but his return gives the Bulldogs a terrific two-some on the outside. I personally feel that they could be the best combination at the position since Robert Bean and Fred Smoot in 1999; I have that much faith in their ability. Their presence will enable Wilson to go with a man-to-man defense for a majority of the game. The Bulldog defense will be able to blitz, more, and actually get a “coverage sack”.

This defense has only one “glaring” hole – depth at safety. Star safety Nickoe Whitley, recovering from an injury, is slated to be full-strength by the summer time; however, he can only do so much. The lone returning player with starter-level talent is sophomore Dee Arrington; the other players are special-teamers, at best. The remaining spots at safety might have to be filled with incoming freshmen: Will Redmond, Kivon Coman, and hard-hitting Quadry Antoine. If the newcomers aren’t ready for primetime, then the coaches may have to lean more on Whitley or move some players around (possibly from cornerback).

Chris Wilson is an intelligent coach and will figure out how to fill out the depth chart at safety. Once he does, the defensive unit will be quite formidable in 2012 – potentially rivaling the 1999 defense. Combined with an emerging offense, the defense should bring plenty of smiling faces and wins to “Starkvegas”, in 2012.

Originally Published in the May 9, 2012 Print Edition

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Mullen’s Offense Set to Take Off in 2012

Historically, the Mississippi State fan base has been subjected to less-than-stellar offensive football. It has always been said that the Bulldogs defense was top notch, but their offense would prevent them from becoming an elite team. Florida Offensive Coordinator, Dan Mullen was brought in to fix that problem, in December of 2008. He was tasked with bringing to life a unit that finished: 103rd, 113th, and 105th, the previous three seasons, in total offense. His spread-option attack was expected to give the long-suffering program a credible offense, for the first time in their history.

The task would not be easy to accomplish, as a spread offense requires incredible depth at skill positions. The Bulldogs were lacking in that area – considering they were built to run the football, under previous coach Sylvester Croom.

Mullen had to sign several bodies in his first recruiting class. He did just that, inking Leon Berry, Chad Bumphis, Brandon Heavens, Ricco Sanders, and Chris Smith. They were expected to aid returning star receiver Brandon McCrae and 6’5 speedster O’Neal Wilder. The Bulldogs also returned Anthony Dixon, who was considered one of the best running backs in the SEC.

The Manchester, New Hampshire native seemed to have enough pieces to improve the putrid offense. He managed to bring more energy to the offense in 2009, as the Bulldogs finished 69th in total offense, with the unit showing signs of promise.

Brandon McCrae, Anthony Dixon, and O’Neal Wilder (the latter who quit, to focus on track) were all gone after 2009 the season; however, there were several talented players returning in 2010 – headlined by Chris Relf, a player with skill set similar to former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

The 2010 season started with a bang, with the Bulldogs displaying an offensive explosion versus non-conference foe Memphis, defeating them 49-7. Fans expected both the offense and team, as a whole, to perform at a high level, in 2010. But everything came crashing down, after a loss, the next week, against the Auburn Tigers. The Bulldogs were embroiled in a quarterback controversy that had the team and fan base split, with Chris Relf and Tyler Russell (Mississippi State’s freshman quarterback) supporters – myself included – becoming emotional in their arguments over who should start.

Relf eventually won the starting job, but the offense resembled more of the ball-control offense Croom favored, for a majority of the season, until a match up against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Bulldog offense exploded for 31 points, in a heartbreaking overtime loss. The Bulldogs scored 83 points combined against their final two opponents – Ole Miss and Michigan (Gator Bowl). They ended up placing 42nd, nationally, in total offense. That side of the ball was heading in the right direction.

The expectations were as high as ever, for the Bulldogs offense, heading into the next season, with all of the ingredients for a terrific unit in place. The group sported the following: a veteran quarterback, a solid running game, experienced wide receivers, and four returning linemen.

Mullen apparently thought the offense could, potentially, be deadly, installing the no-huddle offense popularized by the Oregon Ducks and Auburn – hoping to increase the offensive tempo. The Bulldogs, again, started the season facing the Memphis Tigers, and they again had a nice showing, beating the Tigers 59-14. Offensively, the Bulldogs looked impressive, scoring 34 points in a loss to the Auburn Tigers, in a game that went down to the final seconds.

The problems began in the next game, at home, versus the LSU Tigers. The Bulldog offense sputtered in that game and beyond, with the unit further damaged by the loss of starting right guard Tobias Smith.  Relf, due ineffectiveness, was eventually replaced mid-season by Russell, but the offense was still stagnant. The Bulldogs tried to generate a spark, by rotating three quarterbacks (Tyler Russell, Dylan Favre, and Chris Relf) for the rest of the season, but the struggles continued. Relf ended the season as the starting quarterback, but Mullen had to figure out how to fix an offense that had regressed – falling to 84th, nationally, in total offense.

Mullen took the first step toward improving the offense – squashing his failed experiment with the no-huddle. Next, he had to answer several questions – the first of which was, who was going to lead the offense – Tyler Russell or Dak Prescott (the dual-threat quarterback)? Other playmakers needed to step up, and the offensive line had to be stabilized, after the unit’s horrid 2011 season.

Things fell into place, by the end of spring practice. Russell took control of the quarterback position; finally living up to his immense potential. Young wide receivers Jameon Lewis and Joe Morrow emerged as key contributors. A few offensive linemen – Blaine Clausell, Dillon Day, and Charles Siddoway – stepped up, to solidify the offensive line. The Bulldogs also ran four-deep at the running back position, and the pieces were in place, again, for a good offensive unit.

After years of inconsistency, the Mullen spread-option attack is poised to take off in 2012. He has every element: a strong-armed quarterback (Russell), depth at running back (LaDarius Perkins, Nick Griffin, Josh Robinson, and Derrick Milton), a senior-laden receiving core (Chris Smith, Chad Bumphis, Brandon Heavens, and Arceto Clark), dynamic tight ends (Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill), a playmaker (Lewis), deep threat (Morrow), and a solid offensive line.

The Bulldogs offense could also receive a boost in the form of incoming freshman receiver Brandon Holloway. Holloway could tag-team with Lewis, to form an exciting game-breaking duo. The offense, with all those factors working in its favor, could break some records in 2012.

There are some potential road blocks toward success in 2012 – the first would be Mullen’s naturally conservative nature. The energetic coach may come across as someone who values flash, but he tends to with substance. He must shake that natural inclination, for the offense to take it to the next level, in 2012

The second potential road block is senior receiver Chad Bumphis. Bumphis has regressed, the past two years, and plays the same position as Jameon Lewis. I think it could hurt the offense if Mullen elects to start Bumphis over the explosive sophomore (Lewis). The offense, at times, in 2011, was playing ten-on-eleven, when Bumphis was on the field, last season. I think it would be a grave mistake to go into next season with a potential liability (Bumphis) in the starting line-up. I’m hoping Mullen makes the right decision and starts the emerging star Lewis.

The last road block is, naturally, the quarterback position. Mullen, in my opinion, can’t rotate quarterbacks, for the offense to be successful. He will be tempted to play Prescott, because Russell isn’t the mobile quarterback normally required by a spread-option attack. But, if he tailors the offense to Russell’s skill set, the Bulldog offense could keep some defenses on their heels, in 2012.

I’m not going to say the Bulldog offense is going to be top-10, nationally, next season, but if the 2012 defense lives up to hype, the Bulldogs could be poised for a great year.

Originally Published in the May 2, 2012 Print Edition 

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Maroon-White Game Review

Instant Analysis: The spring game is the fans’ first chance to see how good their team will be, in the upcoming season. Many people wanted to see if the offense would finally show the explosiveness that it has lacked, during the first three years of the Mullen era. The offense didn’t disappoint them, as Tyler Russell led the Maroon team to a 33-22 victory. The two offenses combined for 55 points on the day.

What I Liked

1. Russell’s Command of the Team: I was impressed by Russell, today. He seems to have taken control of the team; the Meridian product may finally be ready to be a top-shelf SEC quarterback.

2. Running Back Depth: I was really impressed by all the running backs today. Josh Robinson looks like the best back of the bunch, but Derrick Milton surprised me with his shiftiness. The depth at running back is good when you can say that Nick Griffin is debatably the fourth-best running back.

3. Young WRs: Joe Morrow and Jameon Lewis really shone; they flashed the big-play ability that the Bulldog offense has lacked.

4. Autry and Hughes: Denico Autry showed why everyone was so high on him, when he was coming out of junior college. He made a few sacks on the day. Hughes was very active – making several tackles and playing well in pass coverage.

What I Didn’t Like

1. The Defense: With all the hype surrounding the defense, I was very disappointed at the level of intensity coming from the supposedly stellar defense. The spring game is tailored more for the offense to succeed, but I expected stronger play from the Chris Wilson-led defense.

2. Kickers: I’ll take a cue from Drew Rosenhaus – Next Question.

Final Analysis: I came away impressed with the offense after this game, but as I mentioned above, the defense has to step it up. I’m still formulating my complete thoughts on the game. I plan on breaking down the Quarterbacks and other positions; in a feature I call J.Short in the Film Room. Also be on the watch out for my position by position breakdown, where I will talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each player on the roster.

Real Story Player of the Game

Tyler Russell and Jameon Lewis: I felt it only fair to give the player-of-the-game to both Russell and Lewis. Russell finished the game 24 of 43 for 312 yards, with two touchdowns, through the air. Lewis amassed 10 catches for 144 yards – to go along with one receiving touchdown. These two could be the Bulldogs’ dynamic duo in 2012. I said it first!

Originally Published in the April 25, 2012 Print Edition

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Mississippi State Spring Practice Preview: Defense

 Initial Spring Outlook

 The Mississippi State defense went through a transition in 2011 – going from the attacking style of Manny Diaz to the read-and-react style of Chris Wilson. There were some growing pains because of inexperience at certain positions; the defense eventually came together, as the year progressed.

The Bulldogs did lose some key defensive pieces: Fletcher Cox, Charles Mitchell, and Brandon Wilson. This spring, Wilson will try to replace those players and further acclimate the defense to the read-and-react scheme.

 Five Burning Pre-Spring Questions

1. Will Denico Autry be the “Real Deal”?

2. Who will replace Fletcher Cox?

3. Who will win the third Linebacker job?

4. Can Darius Slay supplant Corey Broomfield?

5. Who replaces Charles Mitchell?

Key Spring Defensive Battles

 There are several positions that will be up for grabs during Spring Practice. Here is a quick breakdown of the positions up for grabs and the players competing for the spots. I will have a full breakdown of the position battles on The Real Story website www.realstorypublishing.com.

2nd Defensive Tackle

Candidates

Curtis Virges 6’ 3”, 290 (RF)

Quay Evans 6’ 2”, 315 (F)

P.J. Jones 6’ 2”, 275 (Sph)

Devin Jones 6’ 2”, 260 (RSr)

Dwayne Cherrington  6’3”, 325 (Sr)

Third Linebacker

 Candidates

Chris Hughes 6’ 1”, 225 (J)

Ferlando Bohanna 5’ 11”, 225 (RSph)

Christian Holmes 6’ 0”, 230 (RSph)

Matt Wells 6’ 2”, 215 (RSph)

Benardrick McKinney 6’ 4”, 240 (RF)

Boundary Cornerback

Candidates

Corey Broomfield (5’10 180 Redshirt Senior )

Darius Slay (6’1 188 Senior)

2nd Safety

 Candidates

Kendrick Market 5’ 10”, 185 (RF)

Jay Hughes 5’ 11”, 185 (RSph)

Dee Arrington 6 ’1”, 205 (Sph)

Zack Jackson 6’ 1”, 203 (RF)

(Key: F – Freshman; RF – Redshirt Freshman; Sph – Sophomore; RSph – Redshirt Sophomore; J – Junior; RJ – Redshirt Junior; Sr – Senior; RSr – Redshirt Senior)

Final Spring Outlook

The Bulldog defense certainly has several questions to answer, heading into Spring Practice. The defense should answer those questions during Spring Practice – unlike the offense, which will have several unanswered questions until the season starts.

Originally Published in March 14, 2012 Print Edition

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Mississippi State Spring Practice Preview: Offense

 Initial Spring Outlook

 Dan Mullen is entering his fourth Spring as Mississippi State’s Head Coach. He has had a solid start to his tenure as the Bulldog head man. The intense coach is still searching for answers on the offensive side of the ball, though. The offense was expected, under the leadership of Quarterback Chris Relf, to take off in 2011, but that never happened. Tyler Russell took over for Relf, at mid-season, and had mixed results. Inconsistent quarterback play scarred the 2011 season, and Mullen is looking for a Quarterback, during the Spring, that can take his offense to the next level. There are other questions that need to be answered, along with the Quarterback position, and there will be several holes that need to be filled. The Mississippi State 2012 Spring Practice could answer those questions and fill the holes.

Five Burning Pre-Spring Questions

1. Will MSU learn the No-Huddle?

2. Will Prescott challenge Russell?

3. Will a feature Back emerge?

4. Will Morrow emerge as the Number One Receiver?

5. Will Malcolm Johnson take the next step?

 Key Spring Offensive Battles

 There are several positions that will be up for grabs during Spring Practice. Here is a quick breakdown of the positions up for grabs and the players competing for the spots. I will have a full breakdown of the position battles on The Real Story website, http://www.realstorypublishing.com.

Quarterback

Candidates

Tyler Russell (6’5, 225; Redshirt Junior)

Dak Prescott (6’3, 225; Redshirt Freshman)

Running Back

Candidates

Ladarius Perkins (5’8, 190; Redshirt Junior)

Nick Griffin (5’11, 225; Redshirt Sophomore)

Josh Robinson (5’8, 225; Redshirt Freshman)

Derrick Milton (6’2, 195; Redshirt Freshman)

H-Back (MSU’s Slot Receiver)

Candidates

Chad Bumphis (5’11, 200; Senior)

Jameon Lewis (5’9, 185; Redshirt Sophomore)

Brandon Heavens (5’11, 175; Senior)

Devin Fosselman (5’9, 195; Redshirt Freshman)

Left and Right Tackle

Candidates

Blaine Clausell (6’7, 305; Redshirt Sophomore)

Charles Siddoway (6’7, 300; Redshirt Junior)

Damien Robinson (6’8, 310; Redshirt Sophomore)

Center

Candidates

Dillon Day (6’2, 300;  Redshirt Sophomore)

Dylan Holley (6’2, 295; Junior)

Final Spring Outlook

The 2012 Mississippi State Spring Practice will certainly be exciting. It will be crucial in setting up the Bulldogs’ 2012 season.

Look out for my Mississippi State Spring Practice Preview: Defense, in the March 14th issue. I will also be breaking down the position battles on the defensive side of the ball.

Originally Published in`March 7, 2012 Print Edition

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