Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead heads into the 2019 season with a few questions on offense and even more on defense. Following the graduation of one of the best quarterbacks in program history in Nick Fitzgerald, Moorhead must choose between a Tommy Stevens, a graduate transfer from Penn State, and a junior in Keytaon Thompson, who has patiently waited his turn. On offense, there is good news: 7 starters return, along with a loaded offensive line.

On defense, 3 Bulldogs were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Who will fill the holes left by Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons and Johnathan Abram? With 4 starters returning, Moorhead paid attention to depth and will be fine entering the 2019 season.

Here is a look at the projected starting lineup heading into the game against Louisiana to open the season, beginning on offense.


QB: Tommy Stevens
RB: Kylin Hill and Nick Gibson

Tommy Stevens and Keytaon Thompson split reps the opening day of camp and looked really good. Simply by the process of deduction, Moorhead didn’t ask a quarterback, who he recruited with at Penn State, to transfer and play 1 season as a backup. While I expect Stevens and Thompson to split time against Louisiana, Stevens is the quarterback you’ll see under center in crunch time.

Junior Kylin Hill could be the best running back no one is talking about in the SEC. While only getting 117 carries last fall, Hill managed to attain 749 yards and average 6.3 yards per carry. When he needs a breather, look for senior Nick Gibson to be the guy.

Offensive line

C: Sr. Darryl Williams
RG: Jr. Stewart Reese
LG: Jr. Dareuan Parker
RT: Jr. Greg Eiland
LT: Sr. Tyre Phillips

The Bulldogs return one of the best offensive lines in the SEC, with the lone newcomer in senior center Darryl Williams. The big name who will be missed is former All-American Elgton Jenkins, who’s now playing for the Green Bay Packers.

Wide receivers/tight end

WR: Jr. JaVonta Payton, Sr. Isaiah Zuber
WR: Sr. Stephen Guidry, Osirus Mitchell
WR: Sr. Deddrick Thomas
TE:  Sr. Ferrod Green

Last fall, one of the positions that failed to be what Moorhead needed on offense was at wide receiver. JUCO product JaVonta Payton will bring an immediate impact, along with Kansas State transfer Isaiah Zuber. The Bulldogs will need Thomas and Mitchell to elevate their game and be much more productive this fall.

Defensive line

DE: Jr. Marquiss Spencer
DT: Fr. Nathan Pickering, Sr. Lee Autry
NG: RFr. Fabien Lovett
DE: Sr. Chauncey Rivers

As we mentioned, the NFL Draft took 2 stars off this line from last year, but 2 names you will hear early and often are Pickering and Lovett. The highly-recruited players are the future of the defense and will be spelled with experience in Autry and Rivers.

One player to watch is Louisville transfer Allen Love. The Birmingham, Ala., product has appealed the NCAA to be eligible this fall. If he receives good news, the redshirt freshman will be a nice addition to the defensive front.


LB: Jr. Willie Gay, Sr. Leo Lewis
LB: Jr. Erroll Thompson, Sr. Tim Washington
Star: Sr. Brian Cole

Without question, Thompson is one of the best linebackers in college football. The leading tackler from last season with 87 stops, he’ll be anchored by the Starkville, Miss. (High) product Willie Gay. This really needs to be a breakout season by Gay, along with Leo Lewis. The wild card here could be Cole, who you could also see return kicks.


CB: Jr. Cameron Dantzler
CB: Sr. Maurice Smitherman
SS: Sr. Jaquarius Landrews
FS: Jr. C.J. Morgan

An area of concern could be the secondary. While MSU will miss All-American Jonathan Abram, the good news is one of the best corners in the SEC returns. Cameron Dantzler led the team last season in pass breakups with 9 and grabbed 2 interceptions. Veteran Maurice Smitherman returns to provide stability on the opposite side.

Special teams

PK: Jr. Jace Christmann
P: Jr. Tucker Day
KO/P returner: Sr. Brian Cole, Sr. Malik Dear, Sr. Isaiah Zuber

Christman was 12-of-16 on field goals last season and will look to improve this season. MSU returns punter Tucker Gay who averaged 39.4 yards per punt last fall but he may not be the man called upon this year. Pending release from the NCAA, South Alabama transfer Corliss Waitman could unseat Day. The Milton, Fla., product averaged 41.7 yards per punt last season and was awarded first team All-Sun Belt Conference.

Final thought …

On offense, all eyes will be on the quarterback battle. The most important position very well could be at wide receiver. There’s no doubt SEC teams are going to force the Bulldogs to go to the air. Who will step up at receiver? With the offensive line and running backs set, Moorhead will keep a keen eye on the pass catchers.

Should the Bulldogs receive the help they need in the back half of the defense, it will be really good. The incoming freshmen, the combination of Lovett and Pickering on the inside, will be a force to be reckoned with for several years. Should the NCAA clear Love in time for the Louisville transfer to get some reps, MSU will only improve.

With a schedule conducive to win early, this could be a special season in Starkville.