You don’t usually want to entrust a true freshman with too much, no matter how good he is.
So just imagine how shocked most folks were to see Tupelo native Chad Bumphis take a pitch and launch a pass downfield on the first play of Mississippi State’s game Saturday.
It fell incomplete, but it sent a message: The future is the present for MSU.
Bumphis is a true freshman, but a talented one, and the kind of player new coach Dan Mullen is building his program around. No sense in slowly breaking these guys in.
Eight scholarship freshmen played in Saturday’s 45-7 win over Jackson State, and not just during garbage time.
– Bumphis caught two touchdown passes, including the first of the season for MSU.
– Brandon Heavens got involved early, catching only one pass for minus-four yards and rushing once for two, but he had a 16-yard run on MSU’s first scoring drive negated by a penalty.
– Chris Smith caught one pass for 13 yards.
– Defensive linemen Fletcher Cox made two tackles, both in the JSU backfield.
“It says a lot about him and the trust he has in us,” Bumphis said of Mullen.
And there were plenty of sophomores involved.
– Tailback Robert Elliott, out most of last year with a knee injury, rushed for 60 yards.
– Safety Charles Mitchell had an interception and three tackles.
– Then there was quarterback Chris Relf, who looked very smooth both running and passing. He accounted for 157 total yards.
But back to those freshmen. What they showed us Saturday was a flash of their future, or so Mullen hopes. But don’t be fooled – a lot of work remains.
Take Bumphis, who said he was “nervous as crap” Friday night. On his first touchdown, he said he “went blank” after catching the ball.
“My whole body went numb. I saw open field, and I pretty much forgot all the technique I was taught, like tucking the ball away. I’m pretty sure I’ll catch (heat for) that Monday.”
He probably will, because Mullen won’t let his players slide by on athleticism alone. Bumphis could be seen more than once holding onto blocks downfield, and that’s what Mullen likes.
“We recruit these guys out of high school, a lot of them can come in, you throw them the ball, they get the ball in the open field, they can run and make something really exciting happen – that’s not the whole game of football,” Mullen said. “They need to become complete players here as we progress through the season.”
They’ll need to do it fast, though. Up next are road trips to Auburn and Vanderbilt, then LSU at home. That’s a steep learning curve.
Most of the newness is at wide receiver. Only senior Brandon McRae is back from last year, and it’s that group that will ultimately make this offense go.
We didn’t even see guys like Dennis Thames and Ricco Sanders on Saturday. Their turn will come, probably very soon.
“When you have those young guys, we’re going to go through some growing pains with our wide receivers,” Mullen said. “I think they’re gonna have the talent to make some things happen down the road.”
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal