Could this year's Mississippi State team be better than the 2018 version?
Mississippi State finished its 2nd weekend of the season in dominating fashion, defeating Southern Miss 38-15 in Starkville. Coming off a 38-28 win over Lafayette in the Louisiana Superdome, the 2019 season has started with a bang for Bulldogs.
Last season at this point, the Bulldogs were 2-0 after convincing wins over Stephen F. Austin and Kansas State. As we know, the Bulldogs fell to Kentucky and Florida to quell the hopes of a special season. As for this season, MSU will have home games against Kentucky, LSU and Alabama with key road trips to Tennessee and Texas A&M.
There was much concern entering this season, mostly because the Bulldogs lost so much defensive talent to the NFL and had to replace one of the best QBs in program history.
That concern is fading, quickly replaced by this question: Is this team better than the uber-talented outfit of 2018?
Before you punch your computer screen or throw your smart device out the window in disbelief, there is a method to the madness.
Joe Moorhead has decided to give Kylin Hill the ball
In the loss to Kentucky last season, Moorhead relied on then quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s arm and it cost him. As a team, the Bulldogs only rushed for 56 yards against the Wildcats in the 28-7 loss. The following week against the Gators, Kylin Hill only got 9 carries and run for 41-yards.
The season, for the most part, was over.
Fast forward to this season and Hill has carried the ball 41 times for 320 yards and we’re only through 2 games. He only netted 749 yards on 117 carries the entire 2018 season. This past offseason, Moorhead noted he wanted to get back to “Mississippi State Football.”
Judging by the recent numbers, he has not deviated from his plan.
Tommy Stevens will be better than Nick Fitzgerald if he stays healthy
Considering the offense that Moorhead wants to run, this could be a case of Stevens just being a better QB in Moorhead’s system. In any event, the graduate transfer from Penn State has been electric in his 2 starts and was superb against Southern Miss before he went down with a shoulder injury. The good news, MSU announced he could play against Kansas State on Saturday and will be updated throughout the week.
In 2 games, he’s 29-40 passing for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns. In Moorhead’s mind, the most important stat could be he has yet to throw an interception. While he doesn’t have the rushing prowess Fitzgerald had, he makes up for in his right arm.
Make no mistake, should the shoulder turn out and not be an issue, it’s is going to be a record-breaking season for Stevens in Starkville.
Osirus Mitchell and Stephen Guidry have stepped up their production
A lot was made about the wide receiver position during the offseason. Translation: Who was going to catch the football this season? It was heard loud and clear as both Mitchell and Guidry have improved their production beyond measure. They have combined for 15 catches for 202 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Remember, Stevens connected with 9 receivers in the opening week. Against USM, he and backup Garrett Shrader connected with 10 pass catchers.
As for Mitchell and Guidry, you have to give a ton of credit to two players who were raked over the coals this offseason.
This schedule is more conducive to winning
The Bulldogs have a much better chance to have more wins this fall than it did last season. Simply put, you have Kansas State and Kentucky in Starkville. Secondly, you have LSU and OIe Miss in Starkville. With a road trip to Auburn and a trip to face a reeling Tennessee team, there is a nice shot at both teams to get away with 2 wins. The biggest challenge will be Texas A&M on the road.
ESPN’s FPI gives the Bulldogs at least a 70% chance to win 6 more games. They are at 30% or slightly higher against Auburn and Texas A&M. If chalk holds and the Bulldogs win their bowl game, the result would be a 9-4 season.
The defense has bent but not broken
So far, we knew the defensive line would be a question mark with the departure of Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat.
Enter Chauncey Rivers.
Rivers has 6 tackles, including and 1 for a loss, and has been an even bigger force inside the locker room. He has filled a major leadership void.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise this season on defense has Jaquarius Landrews. The transfer from Copiah-Lincoln Community College has been terrific, leading the team with 15 tackles from his cornerback position.
With Erroll Thompson continuing to dominate at linebacker, so far with 14 tackles, the defense is continuing to grow and improve each week.