Joe Moorhead was hired to build on the sturdy foundation that Dan Mullen assembled in Starkville. The offense will look quite different, but many of the current players on the roster should be good fits for the new scheme. Nick Fitzgerald suffered a gruesome ankle injury in last year’s Egg Bowl. He has been limited this spring, but he’s making a nice recovery. In his own words, “I haven’t taken the chance to try to run, run, but, right now, from what I’ve been told, out of 100 percent, I’m probably at 75, I’m not hurting when I run, but I’m not pushing it, either.” Fitzgerald was a triple option QB in high school and most schools that recruited him did so as a TE or general athlete. Mullen and his staff did a fantastic job teaching him to play the position. He’s far more advanced as a runner than a passer, but that will need to change in 2018 and beyond.
Below is an excerpt from the Clarion-Ledger that talks about both Moorhead’s scheme and what to expect in 2018:
“With Moorhead calling the shots, Penn State completed 59 passes of 20 yards or more last season, which led the Big Ten. To put that number in perspective, consider: Fitzgerald completed 43 passes of 15 yards or more last season. Fitzgerald was only 7 for 36 on throws 20-plus yards downfield through the first 10 weeks of last season, according to CFB Film Room. Mississippi State lacked healthy receivers and didn’t have a receiver who could stretch the field vertically last year. This year, the Bulldogs should have both.
“We didn’t take as many deep shots as I feel like we could have last season, and that’s not my choice, that’s not my say-so, and that’s above my pay grade,” Fitzgerald said. “I run the play that’s called, and I do it to the best of my ability.
“But I like the fact that in this offense he’s confident in the deep ball and confident that we are going to throw the ball downfield instead of taking 4 yards here and 4 yards there and going down the field with 16-play drives, which is not always the most fun thing. I love throwing the ball. I think I have a strong arm, and I can get it out there, and we have receivers that can go get it.”
Keytaon Thompson filled in for Fitzgerald in the final two games of 2017. He is made in a similar mold to Fitzgerald in that he is a big athlete that is more advanced as a runner than as a passer. He has been getting invaluable reps this spring with the first team offense, and that should pay dividends in the future. His coach had this to say him recently to the Clarion-Ledger, “The thing I have been most impressed with K.T. (Thompson) is his approach and maturity… For being a young guy, he’s got a calmness and a poise and a presence about him. He doesn’t get rattled, and that is what you want out of the quarterback position. Never too high when it’s going well and never too low when it is going bad. So he has a nice steady approach, and that’s not even mentioning his talent and skills set. His approach has been one that has been very impressive.”
Between Thompson and incoming freshman, Jalen Mayden, this offense is in good shape moving forward. Assuming Fitzgerald comes back at 100%, I think he will be in the conversation as a Heisman finalist and a very valuable CFF asset. I’m often asked about his future at the NFL level, and I think this season will go a long way in determining what it is. Fitzy is a better player than Josh Allen, but he will hope his agent can convince the NFL he’s a day one pick as well, instead of a day three developmental player.
I love Dan Mullen as a head football coach. That being said, he made some curious decisions over the past few years in regards to the way he used his running backs. He finally realized that Aeris Williams was his best back in 2016 and that paid off in 2017 as he finished with 236-1107-6. Williams nearly put up 100 yards on the ground against Alabama and showed over the course of the season that he is a next level talent. Moorhead had the luxury of having players like Chase Edmonds and Saquon Barkley at Fordham and Penn State. One thing that’s a must in his offense is the running back being able to catch. I’m unsure of Williams’ ability in that area. He answered the bell last year as he caught 16 of his 22 targets. The sample is small, but I have seen nothing to believe he’s incapable.
The biggest question that I have is how does SO Kylin Hill factor into the equation? Hill possesses the skill set most comparable to both Edmonds and Barkley. The local product played both running back, and wide receiver in high school and is a terrific pass catcher. He reminds me of former Tennessee RB John Kelly in the way he can be an asset as a pass catcher and also runs like his hair is on fire. Check out some of his top plays as a TrFR here:
In the most recent scrimmage, he only had a couple of carries but was reportedly being looked to as a receiver. I believe this offense can support two backs with fantasy relevance, but that is more of a hunch than a data-driven-statement. Beyond these two, any other touches should be had by Nick Gibson, Dontavian Lee, Alec Murphy, or La’damian Webb. Webb is one of my favorite backs of the most recent recruiting class, but he is a likely candidate for a redshirt.
The Maroon and White Nation does a nice job summarizing who the returning WR talent will consist of:
“Jesse Jackson, Keith Mixon, and Deddrick Thomas all had over 200 yards receiving last year. Jackson led the Bulldogs with 276 in the 2017 season, and Mixon was right behind him with 275. Though Thomas had 227 yards, he scored four touchdowns.
All return for another year as Jackson is now a senior and Thomas and Mixon are juniors. All three can elevate their play next season.
Beyond just those three, MSU also has several other young contributors that have a desire to play at a high level. Malik Dear is back from injury, and likely can’t wait to see the field. Reggie Todd, Osirus Mitchell, and Jamal Couch all have the potential to prove themselves this season as well.
The Bulldogs will look to break in some younger receivers in the 2018 season. Austin Williams came to Starkville from Ocean Springs and redshirted last season. Now, Williams can take the field to play in 2018 as he sat and learned from 2017.”
I don’t look at that group and get particularly excited. Sure, there is potential, but very few proven producers and there is a group of incoming players that have an abundance of talent. Stephen Guidry was former LSU commitment that went to JUCO and could be this offense’s WR1. He’s a versatile player that could be the deep threat and contest ball winner that is critical in this RPO-heavy offense. Devonta “Whop” Jason and Malik Heath are also two big-bodied-WRs of the future that were signed in Moorhead’s first class. This is a report from The Dispatch on the WRs:
“As MSU nears the halfway point of its spring practice schedule, it does so with a raging battle for playing time at wide receiver. Having seen it up close and personal for the first time, the MSU coaching staff doesn’t doubt the talent level, but only what it can do to manage the rotation as the playing time decides itself.
“Very carefully,” Moorhead said of how MSU will handle the rotation. “I think that’s one of those, I don’t want to say question marks, but that’s a position where we’re going to need to sort some things out through evaluations. We have a lot of bodies and a lot of guys that capable of playing in the new system we’re putting in place from a pass game perspective; we just need to see those guys in it.”
The first half of spring practice has given no indication of favorites for the position, and that’s just how Getsy wanted it.
“I was completely open-minded about the whole thing. I didn’t want to have much of an opinion other than coaching these guys as hard as I can and giving them an opportunity to present themselves to me on a fresh slate,” Getsy said. “I took it as I have 11 to 12 guys that are all ready to rock and roll, get equal reps and how they perform and execute will dictate who went in first, second and third, and I’ve been able to mix that up to give everybody an opportunity.”
In practice, Jesse Jackson has consistently been among those getting the first reps after he rose to the top of last year’s injured receiving corps with 27 catches for 276 yards.”
I am unsure about what to expect from this group right now. Mike Gesicki got a lot of work as a pass catcher last season at Penn State. Farrod Green doesn’t have the same skills, but he does now benefit from this scheme which seems to favor tight ends as pass catchers. I’m looking forward to watching all of the pass catchers in the scrimmage.
While Dan Mullen was best known for his offensive pedigree, he managed to compile a defense that is full of next level players. Jeffery Simmons is one of the best DTs in college football and will be a very high pick if his off-field can be overlooked. Montez Sweat was one of the top sack leaders in the SEC last season and will now be playing as a DE in the 4-3 as opposed to the OLB in the preferred 3-4 last year. Dan Mullen hired Todd Grantham away from Louisville before the 2017 season, and that was a splendid decision. The defense will now be led by Bob Shoop and move to the 4-3 above. I do not like Shoop, but he has such a talented roster that I think he will look good as a result. On the bright side, there’s almost no chance he will be as bad as Peter Sirmon was. Leo Lewis and Willie Gay are two very good linebackers with Gay being the player that I think could be a standout in the NFL.
The Bulldogs will need to replace a couple of corners but should benefit with Jamal Peters’ return as well as Chris Rayford and Cam Danztler. Dantzler is a player that has caught my eye on several occasions. The safeties and nickel should be solid with Johnathan Abram, Mark McLaurin, and Brian Cole looking like the presumed starters. McLaurin intercepted about every ball thrown in the bowl game and will hope to build upon that incredible finish. Overall, this is an excellent football team. The previous staff had been pointing to 2018 for a few seasons as the year when they were going to make their run. Most of that staff is now in Gainesville, but I still believe this could be a special year for them. This defense should be one of the top in the country and I have faith in any offense that Joe Moorhead’s fingerprints are on.