October 17, 2012 12:39:50 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Malcolm Johnson's reintroduction to college football Saturday certainly had the perfect script of a comeback story.
In his first game back from tearing his right pectoral muscle in the summer, Johnson finished with a game-clinching touchdown catch, a highlight appearance on ESPN's SportsCenter and more importantly, the signal that the tight end play is back in the fold at Mississippi State University.
"I wanted (that touchdown) bad because the play call was for me and I had expectations and Coach had trust in me at that time," Johnson said. "I felt like I had to prove myself."
MSU (6-0, 3-0 in Southeastern Conference) had seen little impact from the position since MSU's victory over Auburn University nearly a month before with just one catch over the last three previous contests.
"It really just depends on the defenses and the way they want to play us now," MSU senior tight end Marcus Green said. "Tyler (Russell) has a lot of confidence in his receivers and we really appreciate that kind of trust. It becomes we want to make a play for our quarterback when he makes those tough throws too."
The reemergence of Johnson into the lineup certainly did wonders for a passing game that finished with 308 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-31 victory over the University of Tennessee Saturday.
Johnson, who finished with two catches for 34 yards and the one-handed touchdown grab with nine seconds left in the game Saturday, made sure he enjoyed the whole experience in his 2012 season debut. From the famous Dawg Walk to the stadium to the pre-game warmups and then the running out of the Davis Wade Stadium tunnel were all things he'll remember from the journey back to the playing field.
"Going through that with guys I consider my brothers was just so emotional for me and I was so glad I could let my hard work in rehab pay off that night," Johnson said.
Maybe what's even more amazing is without a second of doubt, Johnson's coaches weren't surprised at all at the lack of rust on Johnson's game despite the layoff from his last action in the 2011 Music City Bowl in December.
In Saturday's victory over Tennessee, it was clear the Volunteers defense wanted to prove MSU find the tight end over the middle again. Mission accomplished for the Bulldogs.
"That's not a surprise to us about Malcolm at all and I'll tell you why -- he was doing all those athletic things in practice," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "When we needed him the most when he was fully healthy, we had more than confidence he would perform like that. He's just that talented of a football player."
MSU backup quarterback Dak Prescott certainly found a wide open Green on a fake draw play that saw the redshirt freshman signal caller pull back and throw a 13-yard touchdown strike to the sixth-year senior.
Green, who would finished with six catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns, was wide open on the play in the first quarter because Tennessee had all 11 players near the line of scrimmage trying to stop Prescott's running ability.
"That play was just all about timing," Prescott said. "Now defenses need to play looser because they don't know if I'm going to pass it or not."
Going forward as MSU clearly wants to establish a more wide open and high powered passing attack similarly to what they showed in the first half against Tennessee, Johnson's presence in the lineup simply gives defensive coordinators another added element to prepare for during the week.
"He creates some matchup problems when he gets on linebackers and with the ball skills he has I know Tyler has a lot of trust," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "He's going to put the ball out there in a position where he has the opportunity to go make the catch and trust he can go make some spectacular catches."
The problem is Johnson freely admitted Tuesday he may not be able to top the one-armed haul in he made Saturday night.
"That was one of the better catches I've ever seen and I told him that this week," MSU sophomore tight end Brandon Hill said. "He's a wide receiver playing tight end so he's probably one of the few that make a play like that."