By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State wrapped up an 8-5 season with last Tuesday’s 30-24 loss to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. Here’s a look back and a look ahead at Dan Mullen’s team.
• Biggest surprise: Receiver Chad Bumphis was coming off the worst season of his career, and there were questions about whether he would ever reach the potential he’d shown at Tupelo High School.
Bumphis had a breakout, record-setting senior season, catching 58 passes for 922 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns.
Not only did he put up big numbers, Bumphis came up big in big games. In SEC play, Bumphis ranks fourth in receiving yards per game (83.6) and is tied for first in TD receptions (eight).
• Biggest disappointment: Senior defensive tackle Josh Boyd wasn’t the same without Fletcher Cox lining up next to him. After Cox left school a year early for the NFL, Boyd was asked to slide from nose tackle to the vacated position of three-technique.
His production went down. Boyd recorded 33 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss, well below his 2011 totals of 51, 4.5 and 8.0.
• Offensive MVP: Quarterback Tyler Russell gave MSU the kind of passing attack it hadn’t seen in years. The junior passed for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns, smashing the school record in both those categories.
Despite a tough finish – six interceptions over the final two games – Russell was a strong field general who showed poise under pressure.
• Defensive MVP: Cornerback Johnthan Banks finished his illustrious career strong, recording four interceptions, seven pass break-ups and 63 tackles. He led the defense’s strongest unit, one that nevertheless had occasional issues due to some sub-standard safety play.
• Emerging star: Defensive end Denico Autry, a junior college transfer, came to MSU as a highly touted All-American but took a while to find his footing. Once he did, the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder became a force.
He finished with 42 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 9.5 TFLs and an interception.
• Five to watch in 2013: Five who could be much bigger factors next season are freshman defensive tackle Quay Evans, sophomore receiver Robert Johnson, sophomore cornerback Jamerson Love, redshirt freshman tailback Josh Robinson and sophomore defensive end Preston Smith.
MSU will return six starters on offense – unless guard Gabe Jackson goes pro early – and five on defense in 2013, but there are several other returnees with varying degrees of starting experience. State got a lot of young players on the field this season, including five true freshmen, and that could help develop the depth necessary to compete in the SEC Western Division.
MSU opens next season on Aug. 31 against Oklahoma State in Houston.