Mississippi State football: 5 key storylines as Bulldogs prepare for Texas A&M
Mississippi State and its football team have been dealing with some off the field issues. Fortunately, it doesn’t concern discipline, but it does concern the future of head coach Joe Moorhead.
While some MSU fans want Moorhead to find gainful employment elsewhere, media reports swirl that Rutgers has the former Penn State offensive coordinator in its sites to become its next football coach.
Either way, what could be called a distraction has turned into an emotional head coach, one we weren’t sure had quite a lot of emotion coming into the season.
As it stands, following the loss to Auburn almost a month ago, Moorhead has been very enthusiastic behind the microphone and on the sidelines. While the Bulldogs didn’t beat LSU last week in Starkville, there was a new sense of enthusiasm it seems. With 4 winnable games remaining, MSU could right some wrongs and enter the postseason with a bang. Texas A&M, Abilene Christian, Arkansas and Ole Miss remain and I like the Bulldogs chances.
Here are 5 key storylines as the Bulldogs prepare to face Texas A&M on Saturday.
Where is Kylin Hill?
Coming into the season, I expected the talented junior to be much further along than this. Hill has 643 yards rushing with 5 touchdowns. In his defense, the line has not been stellar. Compounding the fact, MSU has been a quarterback circus for the better part of the season with graduate transfer Tommy Stevens and freshman Garrett Shrader.
While the consistency has been missing for all parties, one area Hill has not been utilized is passes out of the backfield. Coming into the A&M game, Hill has only caught 8 passes for 75 yards. I’m a “get the ball to your playmaker” guy, and Hill simply isn’t getting the touches.
It would be wise for Hill to run the ball more. If Moorhead wants to all but abandon the run with his running backs, either use Hill for bubble screens or put him in the slot. He’s far too talented to be relegated as a pass blocker in the backfield.
With Garrett Shrader has finally being named the starter, why did it take this long?
It took 6 weeks before Moorhead handed the ball to the freshman as the starter. Frankly, it was about 2 weeks too late. I believe the Bulldogs would have beaten Tennessee had Shrader started. Likewise, if Shrader had played a more prominent role against Kansas State, MSU could have had a different outcome. As it stands, the bearded one is 2nd on the team with 440 rushing yards and has thrown for 828 yards and accounted for 7 touchdowns.
To Moorhead’s credit, the move was made following the Tennessee game and he understands where the future is. From a fan and team morale standpoint, Shrader appears to add another dimension to the offensive attack.
The schedule sets up nicely for a bowl bid
Mississippi State is 3-4, but the Bulldogs can right a number of wrongs over the next few weeks to close out the season. Saturday’s game at Texas A&M will be the toughest. Even then, the Aggies are susceptible to losing at home. After that the road becomes very clear with great opportunities against Abilene Christian at home, Arkansas in Fayetteville and Ole Miss at home for the Egg Bowl.
ESPN’s FPI gives the Bulldogs at least a 65% chance of winning each of those 3 games.
In 2011, 2013 and 2016, Mississippi State beat Ole Miss to clinch bowl eligibility.
The future looks brighter than some MSU fans think
Should MSU run the table, sans Alabama, and finish 7-5 pending a trip to a nice bowl game, the thought process in Starkville is very different. While the offensive line is laced with upperclassmen, the recruiting trail is going well. With a freshman quarterback and some underclassmen talent at running back with Lee Witherspoon, MSU can keep its head up. The return of its leading receiver in Osirus Mitchell and freshman hopeful Cameron Gardner should bring optimism for a fan base that has seen its ups and downs this fall.
What is the state of MSU football?
The season has gone exactly how I predicted in wins and losses, with the exception of the game against Tennessee.
The Bulldogs were going to have a difficult run in the middle of the season with games against Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Alabama. Being 3-4 is not an embarrassment at this juncture.
Should MSU fall at Texas A&M, it will have an opportunity to end a 4-game losing streak against Arkansas, the worst team in the conference. Winning that game is critical, because after their 2nd bye week, Alabama visits. More interestingly, it would set up an Egg Bowl win that is a must to become bowl eligible.