SEC football: Five questions for Mississippi State

8TB6_MSU_primary_logo.jpgBy Logan Lowery

Daily Journal

Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen will take his turn at the podium Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Here are five questions he will likely have to address.

Dak Attack

Mullen will certainly field his share of questions concerning quarterback Dak Prescott.

After all, the junior was a big part in Mississippi State’s success last season, splitting time with Tyler Russell and Damian Williams behind center. Prescott appeared in 11 games and made seven starts amassing 2,822 yards of offense and 25 touchdowns.

Prescott will be handed the full reins of the offense this season, but will his physical running style put him on the shelf as it did for portions of four games last season? An elbow injury kept him out of the Arkansas and Alabama games and this time there isn’t a fifth-year senior on the sideline to turn to.

The Bulldogs’ offense is at its best when Prescott is on the field and the team rallies behind him – as evidenced by the fourth quarter and overtime of last year’s Egg Bowl. Protecting Prescott and keeping him healthy should be MSU’s top priority.

Kicking woes

The Bulldogs made just 10 of 21 on field goal tries in 2013 which ranked 122nd nationally.

Judging by the spring, there does not appear to be a drastic improvement. Devon Bell, who was 6-of-14 last season, has been taken off placekicking duties entirely leaving walk-ons Evan Sobiesk, Westin Graves, Courtland Daws and J.J. McGrath to battle it out.

Sobiesk was just 3 of 6 last season and inconsistent in Mississippi State’s three spring scrimmages, making only four of his 10 tries. Graves was not much better connecting on 2 of 4 field goals this spring.

McGrath might be the Bulldogs’ best hope, having transferred from Michigan. The left-footer redshirted for the Wolverines last season as a freshman and is eligible to play immediately.

Offensive Change

Mullen will be void of offensive coordinator Les Koenning for the first time since their arrival in 2009.

Koenning left to take the wide receivers job at his alma mater Texas in the offseason leaving Mullen to appoint John Hevesy as the running game coordinator and Billy Gonzales as the passing game coordinator.

Mullen has been heavily involved in the play calling all along during the past five years and will be even more so this fall.
Brian Johnson, the former Utah quarterback and offensive coordinator, was hired to replace Koenning as a quarterbacks coach. Johnson was recruited to the Utes by Mullen and spent one season playing for him there.

O-line Holes

MSU appears to have its answers for the loss of Russell at quarterback and LaDarius Perkins at running back in the offseason. But the departures of Gabe Jackson and left guard and Charles Siddoway at right tackle are not as cut and dry.

Rising sophomore Jamaal Clayborn took most of the reps at left guard in the spring with junior Justin Malone still recovering from a season-ending foot fracture sustained in the opener against Oklahoma State.

Clayborn, Malone and senior Ben Beckwith, who started the final 12 games for Malone, will be battling for the two guard spots.

Fifth-year senior Damien Robinson will get his last chance to land a starting spot at right tackle.

The former four-star recruit from Olive Branch has been a back-up for the past three seasons. At 6-foot-8, 320-pounds, Robinson certainly has the makeup of a top tier tackle.

Bowl Streak

Mullen’s three bowl wins are already the most by any coach in school history.

Last year the Bulldogs reached a fourth consecutive bowl game for the first time ever already putting the program in uncharted territory.

This fall a favorable non-conference slate lends itself to four wins for State but with SEC road trips to Alabama and LSU on the schedule, State can ill-afford to have a slip up against an inferior opponent.

logan.lowery@journalinc.com