STARKVILLE – Entering this season, senior Brandon McRae was the lone receiver with SEC experience for Mississippi State, and junior college transfer Leon Berry figured to be an immediate big contributor.
Through 10 games, though, that duo has combined for 26 receptions and 273 yards. The top receivers in yardage are freshman Chad Bumphis (318), tight end Marcus Green (264) and speedster O’Neal Wilder (224).
Berry has been without a catch the last four games and has 14 for 170 yards total. McRae has 103 yards on 12 grabs, and neither player has found the end zone.
“Me and Leon expected more out of ourselves, but it didn’t turn out that way,” McRae said Monday. “We’ve been trying to help Boobie (tailback Anthony Dixon) out and block our hearts out and do whatever it takes for our team to win, do what our coaches ask us to do.”
McRae said his goal every game is to be graded a “champion” by the coaches, who award that distinction to certain players after reviewing game film. McRae said he’s earned that honor seven times.
He’s also making sure he’s steering young receivers like Bumphis and Wilder in the right direction.
Quarterback Tyson Lee thinks the explanation for McRae and Berry’s lack of production is simple, and he expects both of them to be factors when the Bulldogs (4-6, 2-4 SEC) travel to Arkansas (6-4, 2-4) on Saturday.
“I would say defenses maybe are eyeing those guys, understanding those are the big playmakers for us,” Lee said. “The next couple games, I think because O’Neal’s made some big plays, it should open up Brandon and Leon some more.”
The deep passing game, mostly involving the 6-foot-5 Wilder, has improved of late. He caught a 67-yard touchdown pass at Kentucky and could’ve had a couple of long TDs in last week’s 31-3 loss to Alabama but for great defensive plays.
The Razorbacks have the worst pass defense in the SEC, allowing 279.3 yards per game. MSU is gaining 158.8 yards per game through the air, 10th in the league.
“For us, if we can run the ball (first), we’ll throw the ball,” Lee said. “Going into this week, that’ll probably continue to be the game plan just as usual.”
– Fullback Patrick Hanrahan had surgery on his broken hand Monday. He suffered the injury in the first quarter of the Alabama game but kept playing.
He practiced Sunday and is expected to practice today and the rest of the week.
Running back Christian Ducré, who did not play Saturday because of a knee bruise, practiced Sunday, and Mullen hopes to have him available for Arkansas.
DePasquale’s job to lose
– With Sean Brauchle missing the last five games with a muscle strain, junior walk-on Derek DePasquale has seized the starting kicking job. Coach Dan Mullen said Brauchle, a junior college transfer, could have kicked against Alabama, but had not been practicing at 100 percent.
Mullen said Brauchle’s recovery has been “up and down.”
“When Sean gets back 100 percent and goes and beats Derek out, he’ll be back on the field,” Mullen said.
DePasquale had made 8 of 10 field goal attempts. He made a 34-yarder against Alabama but missed from 36 yards.
– MSU’s kick return game has been a big plus this fall. The Bulldogs rank third in the SEC with a 25.5-yard average.
Berry has a 27.2-yard average, fourth in the SEC, with a touchdown, while Bumphis is averaging 25.1 yards. Berry had a 78-yard return late in the fourth quarter against Alabama, and Bumphis had a 50-yard runback early in the third quarter.
“We have some guys back there with a little bit of talent returning the kick. I think when you have that, the guys in the front line believe. They’re going to strain, they’re going to push themselves,” Mullen said.
“I attribute it more to the guys blocking than to the guys returning.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal