Mississippi State quarterback Keytaon Thompson (10) reacts after a touchdown in the first quarter against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks at Davis Wade Stadium. Photo by: USA TODAY Sports
September 2, 2018 1:21:52 AM
STARKVILLE -- The question, as it related to Mississippi State's passing attack, was not if, but how. Bulldog fans will wait at least one more week for an answer.
It was assumed, with the amount of returning players and the injection of highly rated newcomers, that MSU's wide receivers would fix the Bulldogs' passing woes from 2017. The primary men doing it was all that was left to be decided, and on Saturday, there were no primary options. No. 18 MSU spread 15 completions through 12 receivers as it threw for 398 yards in a 63-6 win over Stephen F. Austin.
Head coach Joe Moorhead is perfectly fine with this conclusion. He was not deaf to the question and wanted it answered, with no preference for who was doing it.
"Certainly the lingering question entering the season concerning our wide receivers and whether they were able to not just make plays but make explosive plays, I hope we answered that," Moorhead said. "It was great to see those guys take a positive step forward."
It was a bevy of players proving that in myriad ways.
The statistics suggest sophomore Osirus Mitchell was the feature man, taking two catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns. His first was, even he admits, a matter of luck: the cornerback over him sat in zone and the safety over the top was sucked in by playaction, leaving 84 yards of field in front of Mitchell with no Lumberjack to stop him. Quarterback Keytaon Thompson felt weird about it, too, saying, "I thought I was missing a defender. It looked like he dropped out of a helicopter back there."
His second scoring grab featured more acrobatics: his 30-yard catch came in the corner of the end zone and reasonably well contested.
Junior Stephen Guidry, in his MSU debut, did the same, reacting to a ball downfield to reel in his one catch for 39 yards. Freshman Austin Williams was even more impressive, his first catch coming over the middle of the field on a ball so low his fingers touched the ground but the ball did not.
None of it matched what sophomore tight end Dontea Jones did: his one catch, a 17-yard touchdown, came on a one-handed, leaping grab.
"Dontea bailed me out, that was a little high but he went up and got it," Thompson said.
Some were more technical. West Point native running back Aeris Williams got his touchdown grab of 27 yards by sitting in a hole in the zone, waiting for a scrambling Thompson to find him. Columbus native and fellow running back Kylin Hill scored on the MSU offense's first play by choosing the right lane to hit, turning a swing screen into a 53-yard score.
This is the essence that the MSU wide receiving corps wanted to showcase.
"Last year we were slept on, but people don't really know we didn't throw the ball all that much," Mitchell said, and his point is valid: MSU ranked 94th in the nation last year with 27.2 attempts per game. "Now we're actually throwing it and it really showcases our talent.
"We're trying to prove it to all the doubters, yes sir."
As Moorhead said, this was a first positive step in doing just that. It was still an improvement on last year's record, 11.7 yards per attempt Saturday compared to 6.1 last season, despite a disappointing 44.1 completion percentage.
Moorhead knows more performances like that one are needed -- at least, he hopes they are. He sees them as, "imperative to our success."
Thompson said, "Like me, they're continuing to grow and they're going to get better as the season goes on."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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