Game week is finally here, and I couldn’t be more excited. It has seemed like an eternity since our Diamond Dawgs fell to LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional in early June. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of talking about that train wreck in Oxford. I am ready to start talking about Mississippi State again and not just “Who will step up at wide receiver?” or “How much better will the defense be this year?” No, I’m ready to actually see it in person and be able to analyze the team myself. So, with week one upon us, welcome to the first installment of our “What to Watch for” series featuring Charleston Southern.
Does Keytaon Thompson play?
Going into the spring, it appeared that Thompson was a lock to be the backup behind Nick Fitzgerald. While that still seems to be the case, Mullen has raised questions over the last week or so if he would redshirt the former four-star prospect or not. As usual with Dan Mullen, he keeps everyone on their heels when it comes to the depth chart. When asked if Thompson would redshirt, Mullen shrugged off the question with a handful of maybes and we will see. It will be interesting to see who comes in at quarterback late in the second half if the Bulldogs have a big lead.
Who steps up as the number three receiver?
We all know that Donald Gray is going to be the one attempting to fill the hole that Fred Ross left, but who will fall in line behind him? I believe Keith Mixon will end up being Fitzgerald’s number two guy, due in part to how much Mullen likes to use slot receivers in his offense. That leaves a group of guys battling for that number three spot. Gabe Myles had an outstanding Freshman season in 2014, but fell off a bit in 2015 and struggled to get on the field in 2016. I see him having a bounce back season this year and making big plays for State, but he and Mixon are cast in the same slot role.
That leaves the duo of Reggie Todd and Jamal Couch. Both are big targets, standing at 6’3″ and 6’4″ respectively, but have little-to-no experience. Couch played sparingly last season and caught a few balls, but did nothing to wow you. With Reggie Todd being a Freshman, we aren’t sure what to expect out of him, although I have heard that Todd has played very well in practice and can provide explosive plays for you on the outside. Another guy I am interested in watching this season is Jordan Thomas. Although he is listed as a tight end, there have been rumors about him lining up outside to make up for the lack of size amongst the receivers, especially in red zone situations. Can you imagine a 6’6″ 280 pound man lining up on a corner in the red zone? Devastating.
What does the defense look like?
Last year’s defense was easily the worst Mississippi State defense I’ve seen in my lifetime. The defense allowed 6.24 yards per play and gave up 31.8 points per game last season. The height of this embarrassing performance was against Arkansas, where Mississippi State failed to force a punt the entire game and allowed over 200 rushing yards in the first half. Luckily for the returning players, they have an opportunity to prove the problem fell on former defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon’s shoulders, not theirs. With a proven coordinator stepping in to replace Sirmon in Todd Grantham, the Bulldog defense has the opportunity to show last season was a fluke.
But what can you really learn from playing an FCS school? Well, not too much really. The defense will get their first real test of the season next weekend when they travel to Ruston to face Louisiana Tech, but we will get to that next week. As for what I want to see this Saturday, I want to see a team flying to the football out on the edges, There should be six to seven maroon jerseys in on every tackle. I want to see the Bulldogs bring pressure off the edge and get to the quarterback more. As bad as the secondary was last season, the pass rush was just as bad. I have always said, the best pass defense is pressure on the quarterback. It never fails.
What does our kicking situation look like?
I can’t even remember who was the last kicker was that made me feel confident in a field goal try, or even an extra point. I’d have to go back to the Croom era to find a decent kicker, which is probably why I don’t remember their name because I’ve tried to forget those terrible years. Mullen has yet to decide on a place kicker for Saturday, which worries me, but I’m holding out hope that they are all just so good he can’t decide. Got to keep my hopes up. Regardless who kicks this Saturday, we have to accomplish the following: don’t miss an extra point and make all field goals inside of 40 yards. Inside of 40 yards should be a gimme at the SEC level, especially in a no-pressure game like this one.
These were just a few things that I want to see this week. You aren’t going to learn too much from games against FCS schools, but you can learn something. If everything goes as planned, and we don’t have another South Alabama on our hands, State fans have to feel pretty confident heading into the Louisiana Tech game.