There are many reasons to believe Mississippi State will equal or exceed last season’s success – 31 reasons, in fact. Here’s Reason No. 6.
Any coach will tell you special teams is important, but MSU head coach Dan Mullen underscores the sentiment by putting himself in charge of that unit. It’s often an aspect of the game that gets overlooked by fans (and us media types), unless there’s a game-winning field goal or kick return for touchdown.
Mullen knows that special teams can win or lose games in much less dramatic ways. And in most areas, the Bulldogs have excelled in special teams and are set up to do so again this fall.
Let’s start with the kicker, the underappreciated Derek DePasquale. He’s made 20 of 24 field goals in two years at State – at this point, he’s the most accurate in school history. He’s 5 of 7 from 40-plus yards with a long of 48. DePaq has also hit all 51 extra-point kicks.
One problem area in the placekicking game has been touchbacks – MSU had just four last year, when Sean Brauchle handled most of the kickoffs. However, three of DePasquale’s 14 kickoffs were touchbacks, and it’s been an area of focus for him this offseason.
Elsewhere, Heath Hutchins is gone as punter, but Baker Swedenburg should be a capable replacement. He can boom it but needs more consistency. MSU did a good job in punt coverage last season.
In the return game, there are some playmakers handling the ball. Entering preseason camp, LaDarius Perkins is the primary kickoff returner and Chad Bumphis the punt returner. Perkins averaged 20.1 yards on 14 returns last season, while Bumphis 8.6 yards on 16 runbacks, with a long of 35. There are other good options in the return game, like Michael Carr, Jameon Lewis and Darius Slay.