Spring Practice Wrap-up: Mississippi State Bulldogs
GatorTailgating.com's Ben Petitto will be doing a series covering each SEC Team's Spring practice. This is the fourth installment of the series on the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom experiment is over, it is unfortunate that the first African-American head coach was not able to produce a winning program. Yet, I tip my hat to Mississippi State for giving a chance to a great guy in a time when fans and boosters have unfairly not allowed another get a chance. How Charlie Strong is not a head coach may be one of the biggest mysteries (or tragedies) in sports. But the matter at hand is former Gator offensive coordinator Dan Mullen. He takes over a program that has averaged two wins in the SEC the last four years. Mullen has a tough task ahead of him- recruiting to Starkville isn’t exactly like recruiting to say Gainesville. However, he seems to be taking the right steps. He hasn’t gone the Chizik and Kiffin route and has hired Matt Balis, former Florida strength and conditioning assistant during the 2006 national championship season. He could be as vital as any member of the staff, similarly to Mickey Marotti at Florida.
On Offense - The Bulldogs produced an embarrassing 276 yards per game last season and only managed 15 points per contest. Their barn-burning 3-2 loss to Auburn showcased their woes. Bad offenses are always plagued by bad line play and the Bulldogs were no exception, giving up 36 sacks last year. Junior center J.C. Brigone was named to the Rimington watch list (for the best center in the nation) and was the only bright spot on the line last year. Former Gator offensive line coach John Hevesy will make this young line better. They start two true sophomores, a redshirt freshman and two juniors, they could be decent but they will need to improve a ton for Mississippi State to do anything on offense. Running back is the only spot where the Bulldogs have a proven SEC player on offense- junior Anthony Dixon is a bruiser at 240 pounds. He ran for 869 yards last season, and could break 1,000 yards if his line is better. Tyson Lee (QB) made strides last year and will be the starter under center for Mullen’s offense. Highly touted prep star Tyler Russell was a recruiting coup for Mullen and will compete in the fall, but look for Lee to start things off for the Bulldogs. At receiver, Brandon McRae will have to be huge and fully recover from his broken leg. He was the only guy who produced last year with 51 grabs for 518 yards and three scores. They brought in an impressive group of freshman receivers. This group led by Chad Bumpis, ranked the number 16 prep receiver by Rivals.com, will be needed to contribute early. The line holds the key to this offensive unit’s potential.
On Defense- The Mississippi State defense lost six starters, but Matt Balis will have them faster and stronger this year. JUCO transfer Pernell McPhee (DT) was ranked the number three JUCO player in the nation by Rivals.com and will anchor the line immediately. Sophomore Sean Ferguson (DE) could also be a star. He had an incredible four sacks in the spring game. Linebacker Jamar Chaney is back for his senior year after missing all of last season with a broken leg. He should be a beast, and juniors KJ Wright (led team with 72 tackles last season) and Chris White have some experience on the outsides. In the secondary, Marcus Washington has 19 career starts and will be solid, but the rest of the backfield is a question mark. Junior Zak Smith has some experience and is a big hitter at safety. The defense has a long way to go, but might be better we think.
Spring Surprise - Sean Ferguson (DE). The coaches love this guy and he had 4 sacks in the spring game. He will flourish this season if McPhee draws double teams.
Lingering Question- Will Dan Mullen be able to turn things around and make the program respectable? -Houston Nutt did it at Ole Miss in a hurry, but Mullen has less talent on his team than Nutt did. Despite the national championships, Gator fans will recall Mullen wasn’t always the most popular guy in town when it came to play calling (In my opinion he never got Percy the ball nearly enough). Yet Mullen has the ingredients to become a successful head coach. He is modeling the MSU program after many things Florida was so successful doing and I believe he will succeed in some capacity. Mississippi State will never be a powerhouse, but they could be a solid bowl team on a consistent basis.
What to expect this Fall - This will definitely be a rebuilding year. If McPhee (DT) and the linebackers can be productive and Dixon (RB) gets some blocking they could steal one or two SEC games. Look for a new attitude under Mullen and a slow but steady rebuilding process, but don’t expect change overnight.
Predictions -They will win three non-conference games, but they have no chance against a really good Georgia Tech team. Their winnable SEC games are all away at Kentucky, Vandy, Arkansas, and Auburn. I see them surprising people by picking up two of these on the back of Dixon and the defense. They’ll go 5-7 (2-6).
Quotable - “We don’t need to make national headlines to recruit. Taking our budget, instead of buying fancy limos, we’re gonna maybe get more sneakers for our players.”- Dan Mullen on recruiting. I like this little stab at Chizik and Kiffin, Mullen has class and a sense of humor.
Ben Petitto is a columnist for GatorTailgating.com.
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