Mississippi State football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Bulldogs, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Mississippi State Offense
There has to be life after Dak Prescott.
All No. 15 did for the MSU offense was everything, leading the nation in rushing while throwing for almost 3,800 yards and 29 scores. It’s a big-time fight for the quarterback job among several nice prospects, but it’ll be a shocker if it’s not Nick Fitzgerald getting the gig.
Even with second-leading receiver De’Runnya Wilson off to the NFL and Fred Brown getting booted off the team, the receiving corps should be good enough to get by thanks to the return of leading target Fred Ross.
The running backs need to carry more of the load after deferring too much to Prescott carrying the offense. Brandon Holloway leads a veteran group, but it’s on them to shine with a promising rotation to keep everyone fresh. Now they need the line to do its job.
Three starters return up front with a good group of backups after allowing 30 sacks. However, take that with a grain of salt – the mobility of Prescott led to several plays behind the line.
Biggest Key To The Mississippi State Offense
Get the backs going. The Bulldogs only ran for 1,873 yards, but they were relatively effective at times. Prescott did most of the heavy lifting, but now the running backs have to take over. Brandon Holloway is a do-it-all smallish speedster, and there are more than enough options behind him to keep everyone fresh. Two years ago, Josh Robinson ran for over 1,200 yards and 11 scores, but last season the Bulldogs used Prescott to bomb away. There will be more of a balance now.
What You Need To Know About The Mississippi State Defense
Peter Sirmon becomes the third defensive coordinator in three years, but there won’t be too much of a change in style, especially with eight of the top ten tacklers returning.
The defensive end situation in the versatile alignment should be outstanding working around veteran Nick James and Nelson Adams, two 300-plus pound space-eaters in the interior.
With Richie Brown inside and J.T. Gray outside, the linebacking corps is going to be a good one even with two starters gone. There are plenty of options with speed and power to get creative with the formation.
The secondary loses two key parts in Taveze Calhoun and Will Redmond, but it should be even stronger with a nice group of safeties as the anchor. The depth is terrific, the hitters are there, and the recruiting class should help the cause.
Biggest Key To The Mississippi State Defense
Quickly adjust to the new guy. The defense was phenomenal in 2014 under Geoff Collins, and then Florida took him away. The D couldn’t stop the pass in 2014 but was good enough overall, and then Manny Diaz was hired by Mark Richt to help out at Miami. Now it’s up to Sirmon to show that he’s ready to rise up as the next great defensive coordinator after working on the USC defense the last two seasons. There won’t be many changes, and with the experience returning there’s no reason for the results to not be even better.
Mississippi State Will Be Far Better If …
It starts to do a better job of grinding down drives. The Bulldogs weren’t bad in time of possession two years ago, and crushed it in 2013 keeping the ball for over 33 minutes a game. Last year, they were 122nd in the nation having the ball for just over 26 minutes per outing and put the pressure on the defense time and again to hold up. The offense moved the ball well, and were more explosive than grinding, but this year, ball control will be important.
Best Mississippi State Offensive Player
WR Fred Ross, Sr. – Dak Prescott helped make Ross look good, and vice versa. The 6-2, 207-pound veteran came up with an 88-catch season showing off the ability to produce on deep plays, took short throws for big things, and utilizing his quickness to grow into a true go-to guy. He was good all year long, but his biggest production came late with all five of his touchdowns coming over the last five games. With a new quarterback, this season he has to be a touchdown-maker from the start.
Best Mississippi State Defensive Player
LB Richie Brown, Sr. – A.J. Jefferson and the defensive ends will be among the team’s biggest stars, and there’s talent in the secondary to build around, but Brown is the force at linebacker who’ll eat up everything that comes his way. Not just a thumper, he’s a pass rusher with the size to be a hybrid pass rusher if the defense needs him that way. Making over 100 tackles again will be good enough.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Nick Fitzgerald, Soph. – This is assuming he’s the starter and Damian Williams, or one of the other options getting a shot, doesn’t throw a curveball into the equation. Fitzgerald isn’t a runner like Prescott – few quarterbacks are – but he’s got the passing skills and the moxie to take over the job and keep the production going. Unlike the O with Prescott, the pressure won’t be all on the quarterback’s shoulders to carry things, but whoever is under center has to be able to come up with big plays. Mississippi State can’t afford to have a game manager at the position.
The Mississippi State Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s an eight-win season. Once again, everyone will put Mississippi State near the bottom of the preseason West predictions by default – the rest of the division might be too good – but the schedule isn’t all that bad with a manageable non-conference slate and winnable SEC home games against Auburn, Texas A&M and Arkansas. In a bit of a rebuilding year, winning eight and getting a bowl victory would be terrific.
Sept. 10 vs. South Carolina – The Bulldogs can’t blow the home date with the Gamecocks. With a trip to LSU to follow, this could be a rocky start to the SEC season if the Bulldogs don’t come away with the win. However, if they pull it out, this could and should be a 3-1 start before hosting Auburn. Win that, too, and there’s a chance at a massive beginning with at BYU, at Kentucky, Samford and Texas A&M all winnable before going to Alabama.
2015 Mississippi State Fun Stats
– Fourth Quarter Scoring: Mississippi State 110 – Opponents 41
– Time of Possession: Opponents 33:43 – Mississippi State 26:17
– Fumbles: Mississippi State 23 (lost 13) – Opponents 13 (lost 1)