MSU wide receivers still looking for consistency
The definition of a trend is the general direction of how something moves.
The irony involved here is the Mississippi State offense is hoping to avoid its dropped passes becoming a negative trend by doing the only thing they can think of – move on.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen counted six dropped passes by his receivers immediately after Thursday night’s 17-14 loss to Auburn.
“The quarterbacks did their job,” sophomore receiver Chad Bumphis said after the game. “It really came down to us as receivers and we just didn’t make the plays that were there to be made.”
He then saw the same number when he watched the film the next day and the Bulldogs second-year head coach wasn’t comforted by the fact he was right on the figure less than 24 hours before.
“The game was there to be taken on both sides,” Mullen said Friday. “We ended up with 18 missed tackles, six dropped passes and that’s not how you win SEC football games.”
The one play that MSU fans are still talking about this week was a drop by senior receiver Leon Berry on a fourth-and-10 play with less than a minute to play inside Auburn territory. Berry’s inability to secure the pass thrown by Chris Relf resulted in a turnover on downs and senior kicker Sean Brauchle on the sidelines next to his head coach without an opportunity to at least tie the game.
“That’s something that’s really hard to forget because I’ll admit it – I thought about it all weekend,” Berry said. “It hurt me bad because I felt like I let the team down after we’d worked so hard.”
This has caused Berry and the receivers to be the butt of jokes all weekend long from fans and even teammates they text constantly.
“We’ve been catching stuff all week but that’s because it’s something we can control,” Berry said. “That’s our main emphasis this week.”
Berry’s offensive coaches have said they wouldn’t want to have any other receiver as the target.
“If you ask me I’d do it again a thousand times,” MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “You got a senior receiver and Leon will make that play nine out of 10 times. I’m looking forward to him having another opportunity and I know he is too.”
Mullen suggested the previous play that saw Relf get sacked as much more crucial even if it potentially won’t be remembered as well by the maroon and white faithful.
“Leon ran an unbelievable route on the previous play to be man coverage but our line missed the protection,” Mullen said. “Chris checked the protection and the line missed it. That’s a bigger play to me cause Leon won, was cleaned and might have scored.”
After the Bulldogs (1-1) only have two receivers with more than five receptions total and they play the same position (Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens).
Both MSU quarterbacks (Relf and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell) have said this week practice has included more 7-on-7 drills to improve the pitch-and-catch consistency. Mullen said he had little problem with the accuracy of the throws by his signal callers throughout the conference-opening loss to the Tigers.
“A lot of the throws are designed to be that way either to that shoulder or outside right so no issue there at other with the passes for the most part,” Mullen said.
Before the Bulldogs travel to Baton Rouge to play its first Southeastern Conference road game in one of the most hostile environments in the country, they are trying to simulate the crowd noise by playing the LSU band music throughout the week of practice. The MSU coaching staff has admitted most of their young players especially at receiver will need to get used to the volume of 90,000 fans at Tiger Stadium.
One of the players that has surprised even his fellow teammates is sophomore Arceto Clark. The Verona native has completed his transition from defensive back to wide receiver and the 5-foot-10 athlete was one of the targets on the final drive against Auburn.
“When you look at our top six receivers, I’m not in a panic right now as to which one of those guys is on the field at a given time,” Mullen said. “No one has stepped up to say ‘wow that guys is going to make every play’ and also none of them have gone the other way to say I don’t trust this guy being in the game.”
Clark currently is fourth on the team in catches and yards after late last fall being seen put in receiver drills as an emergency due to injuries.
“I always knew I could play on both sides of the ball but I guess the new coaching staff needed to figure out where to put me,” Clark said. “I just see myself as a playmaker and would love the opportunity to do that.”
One of the playmakers that Mullen and the MSU coaching staff would love to have fully healthy Saturday is junior tight end Marcus Green. Last year, Green had five catches for 100 yards including a 50-yard touchdown pass that put the Bulldogs within 23-21 going into the final quarter.
Green suffered an injury to his right knee that kept him out of the second half of MSU’s 17-14 home loss to Auburn Thursday night. However, Green was not made to the media after Monday’s practice due to medical treatment being scheduled immediately afterwards. MSU officials said Green’s participation in the first workout of the week was limited.
Mullen said Green had received his MRI exam this weekend and his confident talk when he sat down with reporters Friday about Green’s health was apparently backed up by the medical scan. The second-year head coach said Green “should be good to go.”