•  Register
9

2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #34 Mississippi State

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 9, 2014

#34 Mississippi State Bulldogs

 

2013 Recap:

7-6 came the hard way as Mississippi State had to win their last three games to get there including a bowl win over Rice. Mississippi State had some winnable games and had situations get away from them against Auburn and Texas A&M, so they were better than the record indicates.

 

Coaching:

Dan Mullen has quietly had success at Mississippi State, but he just has yet to take the Bulldogs to the next level. This may not be the year again but they are a respectable squad in the SEC and the recruiting classes are getting better and better.

 

Offense

 

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Dak Prescott has some pedestrian numbers when you look at his throwing statistics with his 10/7 TD-to-INT ratio, but he ran for nearly 1,000 yards and had 13 touchdowns on the ground. Prescott will have to hope the running backs help a bit more in the running game in order to keep the threat of the pass alive. With All-SEC receiver Jameon Lewis, Prescott has a reliable target to throw to. Prescott has a lot of tools to excel and much of the overall success for Mississippi State rides on his shoulders.

Josh Robinson is the new running back starter but he had nearly 500 yards rushing. He is also a better receiver out of the backfield than his numbers would indicate. Prescott has worked on taking less hits at quarterback when carrying the football in order to avoid the nagging injuries he has suffered through in the past. Prescott is a real wildcard because if he progresses as many suspect he will, Mississippi State could become the team nobody wants to play and pull off a couple of upsets.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Jameon Lewis may not be built like the prototypical wide receiver but he gets results and is one of the most deadly receivers in the SEC. What Lewis needs to do is work on his consistency as there were too many games where he failed to post big numbers and make an impact. More of that has to do with quarterback Dak Prescott but with improvement we will see even better number from Lewis in 2014. Lewis posted over 900 yards receiving and his 220-yard Bowl Game performance opened many eyes as to what he can do when given the opportunity. Lewis is one of the best receivers in the conference gaining yards after the catch and the Bulldogs will make an effort to get the ball in his hands more often. Robert Johnson is also back at wide receiver as Mississippi State, and they'll continue to run a three wide receiver set on most downs and run the ball out of various spread formations.

Malcolm Johnson should be utilized more often and like many of the more talented Mississippi State players, he goes under the radar from many teams and analysts alike. Johnson is a tight end who can make you pay because you forget about him most of the game and then he bites you when called upon for a crucial play or two.

Best Draft Prospect: Jameon Lewis WR 7th Round 2015.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line was one of the strengths of the team a year ago and that could be the way things play out in 2014. Yet Mississippi State starts the season with more questions at this position than perhaps any other on the field, offense and defense included. Gabe Jackson was perhaps the best offensive guard in the SEC last year and finding a replacement has proved harder than first anticipated. Dillon Day is now the leader at the center position and we could see the tackle and guard on the right side in a rotating situation. Blaine Clausell and Damien Robinson have plenty of size but junior Jocquell Johnson will see plenty of time as well. Guard Ben Beckwith will platoon the right side of the line with Justin Malone. The good news is there is plenty of depth along the offensive line, but building a cohesive unit may be another story.

Best Draft Prospect: Dillon Day C 7th Round 2015.

 

 

Defense

 

Defensive Line:

The defensive line struggled with getting consistent pressure a season ago despite having some decent prospects along the line, and we got the introduction of Chris Jones at defensive tackle, a player that looks like a future SEC star. Jones had 7 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks but he was routinely in the backfield and applied more pressure than any of his more experienced teammates. Preston Smith is at defensive end and P.J. Jones returns at defensive tackle. These two starters combined for 69 tackles with 9.5 coming for loss and 3.5 sacks. A.J. Jefferson contributed as a freshman a season ago and he will be groomed to assume a starting role by 2015. While getting pressure on the quarterback is a concern, shoring up the run defense may be an even larger one. Mississippi State finished in the middle of the pack last season as far as rushing defense, but they struggled stopping the run in short yardage situations and it kept the offense off the field. Mississippi State was 11th in the conference in time of possession on offense and it will go a long way if they can ensure more three and outs and stop first down rushes in key situations.

Best Draft Prospect: Chris Jones DT 2nd Round 2017.

 

Linebackers:

Benardrick McKinney burst onto the SEC with over 100 tackles as a freshman in 2012 but his numbers tailed off a bit last season. He is an All-SEC Preseason selection and is still projected to not only leave early but still be selected in the 1st round. McKinney didn’t make as many plays in the backfield but it also seemed like teams honed in on him a little more, something that should not happen in 2014 because he has more experience and talent around him then a season ago. Matthew Wells returns at linebacker and he had 50 tackles with 6 coming for loss, and you saw a huge improvement over the second half of the season. Beniquez Brown is a bit of a wildcard but he is a big hitter that will cause some turnovers and strip the ball on occasion.

Best Draft Prospect: Benardrick McKinney LB 1st Round 2015 (Early Declaration).

 

Secondary:

Jamerson Love is a fringe prospect to be drafted but Mississippi State has a ton of young players who have experience, and with a little more seasoning may hear their names called in a year or two. Taveze Calhoun is the other returning cornerback and he, like Jamerson Love, had 3 interceptions last season. The real trick is replacing Nickoe Whitley who was the heart and soul of the defense and looked like a sure fire draft pick until a gruesome injury near the end of his senior season left him undrafted. Seniors Jay Hughes and Justin Cox will step into the mix, with Kendrick Market providing support at the free and strong safety positions. This is a group loaded with talent but without a true superstar, so there are no places for opposing offenses to avoid or people to throw away from. Mississippi State is one of the more physical press coverage defenses and that will likely not change this season.

Best Draft Prospect: Jamerson Love CB UFA 2015.

 

Special Teams:

Jameon Lewis is the top receiver for this team but will also be listed as the best draft prospect because he will the primary return man for kickoffs and punts. If Mississippi State looks for Lewis to get a breather, freshman Gabe Myles would likely be the player pressed into duty. Mississippi State may have had a better record had their field goal kickers been more reliable last season. Devon Bell was one of the kickers last year and this season it looks like he will only be punting, where his 41.2 avg. was respectable and his 14 punts inside the 20 is what grabbed the attention of many. Bell can be utilized as a weapon and Mississippi State will make their opponents work longer drives for points.

Best Draft Prospect: Jameon Lewis WR/KR 7th Round 2015.

 

Schedule:

It’s the SEC so the schedule isn’t too easy but I see October as the key where Mississippi State has a pair of home games to start the month with Texas A&M and Auburn. If Mississippi State can steal one of those games then they can start thinking about where they will be in the conference and getting at least 8 wins before the bowl games start.

 

Draft Outlook:

With Bernardrick McKinney and Chris Jones there is exceptional talent on the roster and both have a shot at being 1st rounders. The offensive line and secondary need a little more experience but we could see some prospects from this area of the field as well. Mississippi State has been turning out more prospects than some of the other schools in the SEC that are thought to be better football programs.

 

< Previous: #35 Bowling Green  Next: #33 Oregon State >