October 14, 2010 7:52:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- In the wake of season-ending injuries to Marcus Green and Leon Berry, Mississippi State''s receiving corp needs new options to emerge.
MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning is pleased with the growth of his players, but he knows the Bulldogs (4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) have road games against the University of Florida and Alabama and a home game against Arkansas. Those defenses are ranked in the top four in the SEC.
MSU is averaging 14.7 points per game against league opponents, and it has passed for 200 yards in a game only twice -- Memphis and Alcorn State.
"When the competition picks up, the performance needs to pick up," Koenning said. "We''ll soon find out. I wish I could sit here and tell you and read a silver ball, but I think they''re excited about the opportunity."
Vick Ballard has flashed signs of being able to help the Bulldogs duplicate last season''s rushing attack, which led the league with feature back Anthony Dixon. The emergence of the ground game has taken the load off the passing game to do more, though wideout Chris Smith said there''s no more pressure now than there was at the beginning of the season.
"We still have to block," Smith said. "We still have to do our job in every situation. We know we''ve got to step it up. I feel (Koenning) is confident in everybody we have at receiver. He''s given us more opportunities to get in and get around the offense."
Chad Bumphis leads the team with 32 catches for 431 yards and four scores. Brandon Heavens has two touchdowns and sophomore Arceto Clark made clutch grabs against Auburn and Georgia. Heavens is the only player besides Bumphis who averages more than two catches a game.
Sophomore Chris Smith, redshirt freshman Ricco Sanders, and even freshman Michael Carr are vying for the catches Green and Berry would have had. That group, just like the underclassmen ahead of them on the depth chart, are going through the same learning process. Bumphis is the only sophomore receiver who played a prominent role last season.
"They''ve got to grow up quick," Koenning said. "In this league, you ain''t got much time. Growing up passes you by. You better get going."
MSU''s top three receivers are listed at 5-foot-10. At 6-2, Smith is the only active receiver or tight end taller than 6-0 who has caught more than four balls this season.
Having a taller, longer option at receiver is coveted but isn''t a necessity for MSU''s passing attack to prosper, Koenning said.
"I don''t care if you''re 5-2 or 6-8, if you make a play I''m excited," he said. "When we''ve won ballgames, our guys have made plays. That''s all it comes down to."
Florida, which is coming off losses to Alabama and to LSU, has a league-high 13 interceptions. The secondary, led by cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Ahmad Black, is thriving in the same man-up style as last season, Koenning said. He rates the secondary next to LSU''s defensive backs, who forced five turnovers in a 29-7 victory against MSU on Sept. 18.
"They''ve got dude-coverage -- you got that dude, he''s got that dude, and he''s got that dude," Koenning said. "Those dudes don''t seem to show up very often. They''re talented on defense, and our guys are looking forward to the challenge."