November 7, 2013 2:56:55 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- The little secret being talked about around the Seal Family Football Complex this week is Mississippi State hasn't seen a wide receiver like Mike Evans all season.
As the Bulldogs began their preparation for a nationally televised matchup with No. 11 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2 in Southeastern Conference), the tape of their eight previous games simply don't give them any reference for Evans' skill set.
"He's a completely different kid at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds that is freakishly fast and can jump out of the gym as they say," MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. "He's a completely different animal that we've just never seen."
Not even when trying to defend the LSU duo of Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry can give MSU cornerbacks any pointers on trying to defend easily the SEC's most prolific pass catcher in the 2013 season.
Evans, who is clearly the favorite and most easily found target for 2012 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, leads all receivers in the conference in yards (1,147), touchdowns (12) and yards per touch (22.1 yards) this season.
When MSU had the displeasure of facing Beckham Jr., and Landry, both of who are also considered high NFL Draft picks eventually as well, the duo shredded the Bulldogs for 275 total receiving yards.
MSU had trouble on two specific big plays keeping track of South Carolina's best receiving threat as Connor Shaw found for two catches resulting in touchdowns during the Gamecocks' 34-16 victory in Columbia, S.C.
"At this point in the season it isn't frustrating really to get beat like that," MSU redshirt freshman cornerback Cedric Jiles said. "It's more of a mindset like 'let me get my stuff together and don't get beat'."
Professional scouts have Evans, a third-year sophomore, rated as one of the best receivers in the country and a possible first round draft pick if he chooses to forgo his final two years of eligibility at A&M. CBSSports.com draft analyst Rob Rang has Evans possibly taken in the Top 10 of 2014 NFL Draft.
Evans is truly a big-play target on every passing play from the spread offense brought by Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin and perfected by the improvisation of Manziel. Evans is one of only six receivers in the Football Bowl Subdivision to already surpass the 1,000- yard plateau. He leads the nation with 15 catches of 30 or more yards.
"I don't know about the talent of other receivers but Mike is a big guy that is extremely physical," Sumlin said. "He plays hard without the football, is a talented guy with the ball in his hands. He looks like an intermediate guy that you can throw the ball to short and be physical with but he's a deep threat no doubt."
Sumlin went so far Saturday after the Aggies dominated UTEP 57-7 to suggest Evans should have his name bantered about for the Heisman Trophy along with his rock star quarterback trying to repeat as the winner.
"I'm puzzled why Mike Evans isn't in the Heisman race," Sumlin said. "I think he's as good a player as there is in the country. He's second in the country in yards per game and everybody knows we're going to throw him the ball."
Sumlin is familiar with having two high profile offensive players draw attention during a season after being an assistant at Oklahoma.
"People say you can't have two guys that can do that," Sumlin said. "But I was on a team at Oklahoma that had (quarterback) Jason White and (running back) Adrian Peterson."
In 2004, as a special teams coordinator, Sumlin saw White and Peterson share the spotlight en route to finishing second and third for the award behind Matt Leinart.
Evans is close to breaking NCAA record for yards per catch in a season, 24.4, set by longtime NFL wide receiver Henry Ellard while at Fresno State in 1982. Evans has at least one 20-yard catch in 20 of 22 career games. MSU's defense has limited teams to just 24 total passing plays over 20 yards this season, which ranks tied for fifth in the SEC.
MSU coach Dan Mullen suggested Monday that focusing too much on defending the Manziel and Evans combination could be detrimental to the Bulldogs defensive plan.
"That's your problem because you can only put so many guys on so many people," Mullen said. "They have a very good receiving corps of not just one guy, of multiple guys. So you say 'OK, let's put two guys on Manziel and two guys on Evans', (then) the other seven take the nine (and) we're two short and that could be problems for you."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.