The Bulldogs are on the rise, but must navigate a difficult schedule once again in 2011.
By: Steven Lassan | 6/8/11, 5:19 PM EDT
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You can read the entire Mississippi State preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 SEC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#27 Mississippi State
SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dan Mullen, 14-11 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Les Koenning | DEF. COORDINATOR: Geoff Collins, Chris Wilson
Mississippi State had a decent passing game last season, but it was the run game that made the offense go. With quarterback Chris Relf’s continued progress and a more experienced receiving corps, the Bulldogs are looking to be equally dangerous through the air.
It starts with Relf, who has made huge strides from both a technical standpoint and in his confidence. He’s taken ownership of coach Dan Mullen’s offense, taking charge during offseason workouts — even doling out punishments for dropped passes — and finding a very high comfort level with the schemes and his teammates. “It shows great respect to him, because he’s showed great leadership skills, and he’s stepped it up a whole other level, because he wants to win,” tailback LaDarius Perkins says. “And he has everybody else wanting to win, too.”
Relf will be helped by a deeper, more experienced group of receivers, led by Chad Bumphis, a junior. Bumphis injured his ankle after spring practice but should be good to go in the fall.
Perkins is a key part of the running game, which on paper figures to be even better than last year, when MSU averaged 214.9 yards per game. The speedster rushed for 566 yards, third on the team behind Relf (713 yards) and senior Vick Ballard, who gained 968 yards and scored a school-record 20 total touchdowns (19 rushing, one receiving).
The only real question mark is the offensive line, which lost All-America left tackle Derek Sherrod. Senior Quentin Saulsberry, who’s spent his career floating along the line, likely will play center.
A good bit of turnover at the linebacker position is cause for concern. All three starters, including Chris White and K.J. Wright, are gone, and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who coached the position, left for Texas.
Enter Geoff Collins, who pulled a 180 with FIU’s defense last season and now holds the dual titles of co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at State. He’s got some good parts to work with, like senior Brandon Wilson and junior Cam Lawrence. And the Bulldogs will get a boost from Brandon Maye, a three-year starter at Clemson who arrives at State as a post-graduate transfer.
“To play in this league, you’d better be able to run,” Collins says. “I think we have that; at the linebacker position there are some guys that can run.”
There’s a greater comfort level with the line, especially the interior, and a secondary chock full of experience. Chris Wilson, promoted from co-DC to lead the defense after Diaz left, has plenty of options for mixing up personnel and coverages.
Derek DePasquale has been outstanding for the Bulldogs. In his two seasons as the primary placekicker, he has made 20-of-24 field goals and all 50 of his extra points. Brian Egan (kickoffs) and Baker Swedenburg (punting) have also shown big legs. In the return game, MSU will utilize several players, including Perkins, junior Brandon Heavens, sophomore Michael Carr and shifty redshirt freshman Jameon Lewis.
Mullen, entering his third season, has MSU on the right track. The mantra this offseason has been to work even harder and build on 2010, when State went 9–4 and pounded Michigan in the Gator Bowl, 52–14.
Most of the parts are in place for a sustained run under Mullen, but the SEC West is a monster and showing no signs of slowing down. State figures to be locked in a battle with Arkansas and Auburn for third place in the division.