In Year 2 in Joe Moorhead's offense, Kylin Hill has all the makings of a breakout player in the SEC
After Mississippi State’s win at Kansas State last year, I wrote about something that seemed like a forgone conclusion.
That is, Kylin Hill was ready to explode in Joe Moorhead’s offense.
Anybody watching that game probably would have told you the same. Hill was shifty at the line of scrimmage, he ran through linebackers and safeties and he showed off top-end speed that made him look like a 3-down back who was ready for the big time.
Hill finished that game with a career-high 227 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns. Dare I say, Moorhead probably had some flashbacks to watching Saquon Barkley in the midst of Hill’s career day.
But that was the peak of Hill’s sophomore season in Starkville. He was held to 2 games of more than 50 rushing yards and just 1 rushing score the rest of the season. He dealt with a hamstring injury that ultimately prevented him from being the same bruising, versatile back who stomped all over Kansas State.
As a result, Hill won’t start the season in the same conversation as SEC backs like D’Andre Swift or Ke’Shawn Vaughn. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he finished the season in the same breath as them.
It’s a good time to buy stock in Hill. He still has the same coach who maximizes the running back position like few can. In Moorhead’s offense, the running back workload is atypically high for this era of shared backfields and high-volume passing offenses. Before last year, Moorhead’s lead back had a minimum of 268 touches and 1,738 yards from scrimmage in 6 consecutive seasons.
Had Hill been healthy all year, I believe he would have at least been close to those marks. And it’s not like Hill was non-existent at less than 100 percent. We’re talking about someone who still averaged 6.3 yards per carry, caught 22 passes and had 4 receiving touchdowns in 11 games.
Hill’s combined numbers against Alabama, Auburn and LSU were 38 carries for 215 yards (5.7 yards per carry), which is solid, but it probably could have been more.
Take this play against Alabama, for example. Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings has Hill stopped 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, yet he escapes. And when it looks like Dylan Moses has Hill stopped, he bounces off the tackle and takes it 38 yards. It looks like Alabama players are stunned that he turned that play into that type of gain:
Kylin Hill, making something out of nothing. pic.twitter.com/jf5i7XXYNf
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 10, 2018
The funny thing about that play? Hill said after that he would have scored if he was at 100 percent.
Yeah, I believe him.
I also believe that would have happened on other occasions if not for that hamstring injury limiting Hill’s second-level speed. It’s tough to be a 3-down back in Moorhead’s system at less than 100 percent. Moorhead still used Hill in a limited role, but it makes sense that he only got double-digit carries 3 times after Week 2.
Hill might not be 230 pounds like Barkley was, but even at 215, he can do a couple of things that resemble the former Penn State star — shedding tacklers and running those wheel routes. As long as Hill is healthy — he certainly looks like it based on what we saw in the spring game — the plan will be to get him involved early and often, especially with a first-year starter at quarterback.
Speaking of having a first-year starter at quarterback, that could actually work in Hill’s favor. MSU had an obvious offensive weakness last year. Nick Fitzgerald, as prolific as he was as a runner, just was not a successful downfield passer. He didn’t get much help from MSU’s receivers, either. Based on the limited amount we’ve seen and heard from Keytaon Thompson, I like MSU’s chances of improving that area. It has to in order for Moorhead’s system to work.
If and when that happens, Hill and Nick Gibson shouldn’t have to see all of those loaded boxes. That might take some time, though. Hill is still the top weapon in MSU’s offense, and now that both Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams are gone, he’ll be at the top of every scouting report.
It’s strange to think that an MSU running back would fit that description and not a quarterback. The Bulldogs have been fortunate to have Fitzgerald and Dak Prescott running the show for the past 6 years. The hope is that Thompson will develop into MSU’s next prolific quarterback, but it would certainly help if he had a star running back to take up some of the attention.
It has been 5 years since MSU had a running back earn All-SEC honors (Josh Robinson in 2014). It has been 10 years since MSU had a first-team All-SEC back (Boobie Dixon in 2009). Before 2018, Moorhead’s running back was the conference’s player of the year in 3 consecutive seasons. Those might sound like lofty goals, but they aren’t to Moorhead and they certainly aren’t for Hill.
All the tools are there for a breakout year. Expect plenty of weekly reminders of that throughout 2019.