The week that Joe Moorhead was hired at Mississippi State, I wrote why I thought that Aeris Williams stood to benefit most from his new coach.
I watched the way that Moorhead used Saquon Barkley as a true 3-down back, and how he found ways to get him touches in space, despite the fact that Penn State’s offensive line struggled. While all the attention was focused on what Moorhead would do with Nick Fitzgerald after the job he did building up Trace McSorley, I was focused on backfield. Specifically, how Moorhead would maximize Williams’ versatility.
But after what I saw on Saturday at Kansas State, I realized that I was wrong. It’s not Williams who will reap the rewards of Moorhead’s system.
It’s Kylin Hill.
I know. What a shocking conclusion to jump to after the guy posts 227 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns en route to SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Real bold, guy. That came in a week in which Williams didn’t even earn a snap.
There are a few things that people might not realize about how Moorhead uses his backs, and why Hill’s monster game against Kansas State was a sign of things to come.
Moorhead’s offense thrives on versatility and unpredictability. He can run quarterback draws up the middle on 3 consecutive snaps while showing 3 different looks (that’s something Nick Fitzgerald did Saturday).
That’s why Moorhead loves him a 3-down back. He might even love it more than his new favorite Southern tradition of everything being wrapped in bacon.
Moorhead doesn’t subscribe to the theory that there should be a “passing down back.” A back who doesn’t pass protect or catch passes is limited, and it makes the offense predictable. Instead, he finds someone who can do all of those things, and he’s really not big on any sort of rotation.
That’s why Hill could legitimately approach 300 touches this year.
Lord knows he’s plenty talented. All we heard about in the offseason was how improved he was after a freshman season in which he only had 78 rushes for 393 yards. Does anything we’ve seen from Hill through 2 games suggest that those promising offseason reports were overblown? Nope. He ran inside the tackles, outside the tackles, past defenders, through defenders and showed a knack for falling forward (usually into the end zone).
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) September 8, 2018
The skill set is obviously there. How much does Moorhead like Hill’s play so far? In a pair of comfortable victories, Hill is the only MSU running back with more than 6 carries in a game so far. And while Hill isn’t a high-volume pass-catcher yet with only 2 catches, both went for touchdowns.
Based on Williams’ benching in Week 2, it wouldn’t surprise me if Moorhead used that new redshirt rule and instead used Nick Gibson as the extremely rarely used second-stringer (Williams would probably still be the guy if Hill got hurt, though).
Here’s something that people might forget about what Moorhead did at Penn State. When he arrived, Barkley had just finished his impressive freshman season. That same year Penn State also added the No. 1 running back recruit in the country in Miles Sanders, who was plenty talented and in good standing with the team as the second-string back.
Barkley out-touched Sanders 571-76 in 2 years in Moorhead’s system.
In other news, Sanders already set a career-high for touches in a season in his first year without Moorhead and Barkley at Penn State … through 2 games.
The disparity in carries between Moorhead’s primary back and the second-string back might be the biggest in college football. Shoot, go back to his days at Fordham and you’ll see that:
- 2012, Carlton Koonce (Fordham) — 300 carries, 48 catches, 1,909 yards from scrimmage
- 2013, Carlton Koonce (Fordham) — 307 carries, 41 catches, 1,738 yards from scrimmage
- 2014, Chase Edmonds (Fordham) — 294 carries, 19 catches, 1,959 yards from scrimmage
- 2015, Chase Edmonds (Fordham) — 251 carries, 31 catches, 2,031 yards from scrimmage
- 2016, Saquon Barkley (Penn State) — 272 carries, 28 catches, 1,898 yards from scrimmage
- 2016, Saquon Barkley (Penn State) — 214 carries, 54 catches, 1,903 yards from scrimmage
For all you math majors, that’s an average of 310 touches and 1,906 yards from scrimmage per season.
For all you football majors, that’s crazy prolific.
We’re talking about a coach whose lead back had a minimum of 268 touches from scrimmage and 1,738 yards from scrimmage the past 6 years. That’s competition-proof, too. As long as Moorhead finds his guy, it’s full steam ahead.
All signs point to Hill being that dude. Moorhead is going to continue to set up Hill in any way he can. Whether that’s operating between the tackles, running wheel-routes or dunking alley-oops, Hill is going to have every opportunity possible.
Yes, Moorhead is literally serving Hill alley-oops:
— Mississippi State Football (@HailStateFB) September 6, 2018
So. Much. Swag.
Mississippi State fans aren’t very used to seeing an offense that has a legitimate non-Fitzgerald weapon. As he continues to get more comfortable in Moorhead’s system not only running but throwing, Hill’s efforts will be a much-needed boost.
Many wanted to know how Moorhead was possibly going to take MSU to heights that it couldn’t reach in the Dan Mullen era. Maximizing the abilities of a player like Hill is certainly one way that’ll happen.
One alley-oop at a time.