Previously: Oklahoma State
We continue this schedule lookahead with MSU’s Week 2 opponent. It’s the Bulldogs’ home opener, and the second all-time meeting between these schools in football. It’s a gimme win, obviously, but let’s take a look at the Braves anyway.
Alcorn State Braves (Sept. 7, in Starkville)
• Conference: SWAC
• 2012 record: 4-7 (4-5, 5th East Division)
• Final ranking: Not ranked
• Coach: Jay Hopson (4-7, one season)
• Returning starters: 8 (5 offense, 3 defense, 0 specialists)
• Last meeting: MSU, 49-16 (Oct. 2, 2010, in Starkville)
• On the Web: AlcornSports.com
In his first year at the helm, Hopson doubled Alcorn’s win total from the previous year. It was the most wins since 2010, when the Braves won five games. The next step now, of course, is to push past the .500 barrier. Alcorn hasn’t done that since 2006, when it went 6-5.
There was some turmoil with the previous staff, and several key players left, including quarterback Brandon Bridge, who gave MSU fits during the 2010 meeting. When Hopson arrived, he said he saw a desire among the players to move on and not dwell on the past.
“Guys were kind of hungry,” Hopson told me earlier this week. “We got in in June or July, and I think what hat happened was because they’d had so much turmoil with all the stuff the previous year, the guys were anxious to get going and and get structure and get moving. So it was really a pretty smooth transition.”
A lot of young players got on the field last year. Hopson said that at times he had four freshmen playing on the offensive line. His quarterback, John Gibbs, was a freshman. And so while Hopson lists just eight returning starters, it’s actually a team with a good bit of experience. The secondary is a good example.
Hopson lists one returning starter there, safety Devon Francois. But other players drew a few starts here and there, and Alcorn was actually strong against the pass last season. It allowed 156 yards per game, which ranked first in the SWAC.
“That’s why I say the numbers are deceiving, because Desmond (Stevenson) started two or three games, so did the other corner, Jamison Knox started. Devin Francois actually played at nickel, now he’s starting at safety,” Hopson said. “Anthony Williams, another safety, actually is back and started at the end of the season. So really, I have in the secondary, other than my new nickel, I’ve got four out of my five guys in the secondary, they’ve all started.”
Alcorn is trying to replace its two middle linebackers, but it’s got some experience up front in Deion Roberson and Terrance Green.
Offensively, Gibbs is battling junior Zerick Rollins for the starting job. The 6-foot-6, 193-pound Gibbs passed for 1,406 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions last season; he also rushed for 363 yards. Rollins saw action in only one game and threw no passes. Also expected to compete for playing time is signee Khaderal Hodges, a Mendenhall product.
“I thought they had a nice spring, and I really think the quarterbacks made a jump during the spring,” Hopson said. “We’re just going out there every day going to work and trying to get better.”
Hopson plans to play more young players this year, and he sees it as a natural part of the building process.
“We’ve got some good-character men, and hopefully playing some of those freshmen early will help us.”
Next up: Auburn