HOUSTON– Every team has lingering questions heading into a season. Three questions of particular consequence hang over Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs open a new season today in Houston, taking on No. 13 Oklahoma State at Reliant Stadium. How well they fare in that game, and on this season as a whole, will depend on how well those questions are answered.
1. Can the receiving corps reload?
All three starters from last season are gone. So now is the time for players like Robert Johnson, Jameon Lewis and Joe Morrow to grasp the reins. They’ll have help, with junior college transfer Jeremey Chappelle expected to step right in.
The starters have embraced leadership roles, and the newcomers they’re mentoring have been pushing to get on the field.
“For me coming from a backup to a starter, I figured that this is SEC ball,” Morrow said. “It’s big-boy ball, so you’ve got to buckle down, hit all the reps, and just be all the way in for the program.”
2. Can the cornerbacks lock it down?
Gone are Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, and the nine interceptions they combined for at cornerback last year. The success of the pass defense hinges greatly on the Bulldogs not having a big dropoff at that position this year.
Safety Jay Hughes said from what he’s seen of the new corner rotation, things will be just fine. He and others have noted the speed of guys like Justin Cox and Taveze Calhoun, and junior Jamerson Love brings a decent amount of experience to the table.
Deshea Townsend is the new cornerbacks coach, and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said his confidence has “rubbed off on them. So if they have a bad play, it doesn’t turn into a bad day. They can recover pretty quickly.”
3. Can Collins bring the juice?
Since being promoted to defensive coordinator, Collins has talked extensively about making MSU’s defense more aggressive, and he’s punctuated that point with terms like “mayhem” and “juice.”
MSU had just 19 sacks last year and wasn’t often in attack mode, and Collins aims to change that. The trick – especially against a high-octane offense like Oklahoma State’s – is to do it without getting burned by the big play.
“Our defense, we’re going to change it up every play, every drive, every quarter we’re doing something different,” middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney said. “We’ve got everybody moving around, so it’s going to be pretty hard for an offense to see what we’re doing.”