MSU fall camp 2018: Offense

Joe Moorhead and Kylin Hill

Staff Writer

Football season has arrived.

Later Friday, Mississippi State hits the practice fields for the first time as the Bulldogs begin preparations for the 2018 season.

After focusing on questions facing the MSU defense on Thursday, today the Starkville Daily News takes a look at several questions facing the Bulldog offense in training camp with just over four weeks to go before State’s Sept. 1 season opener against Stephen F. Austin.

Will the Moorhead
offense start to click?

By now, everyone is well aware of the reputation new MSU head football coach Joe Moorhead has as an offensive mastermind.

In his two seasons as Penn State’s offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017, Moorhead’s offenses scored at least 30 points in 21 of the 26 games he coached and averaged a whopping 39.4 points per game in that span.

Moorhead’s calling card has always been explosive, balanced offensive attacks. He wants that to continue with the Bulldogs. However for it to work, Moorhead might have a couple of obstacles to overcome.

One, Moorhead said he’d like MSU starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to have around a 65 percent completion percentage. That’s quite a jump up from Fitzgerald’s career mark of 55 percent.

Secondly, Moorhead and the Bulldogs need the receiving corps to become more consistent and a bigger threat than a year ago.

The bottom line is State should be solid on the ground between Fitzgerald and running backs Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill. It’s the State air attack that might need to iron out some kinks in the days ahead for Moorhead’s offense to run the way he likes.

Will Fitzgerald hold up?

The answer to this question is almost assuredly yes.

At least as pertains to the gruesome ankle injury Fitzgerald suffered at the end of last season. He’ll be full-go when practice starts after being limited in the spring and there seems to be no reservations whatsoever in Fitzgerald’s or anyone’s mind about his current physical health.

The question at camp though might be can Fitzgerald hold up mentally. As in, will he be at all hesitant after his terrible ankle injury?

Again, the answer is that it likely won’t be an issue. Fitzgerald has proven time and time again in his Bulldog career to be as tough as they come. However it’ll likely do good for Fitzgerald’s mind to finally face a live rush again after having not done so in nearly a year. The next four weeks will be as big for Fitzgerald as anyone on the roster as he gets back in the swing of actual football.

Can MSU receivers
begin to step up?

It was influenced a great deal due to injuries to key performers, but last year’s MSU receiving group was nowhere near as productive as the Bulldogs had hoped.

No one on the roster had more receiving yards than Jesse Jackson’s 276 yards. MSU finished 112th in the country last year in passing offense, in large part due to State’s inability to get the performances it needed from its receivers.

There’s hope things could turn around this year. Junior college transfer Stephen Guidry and true freshman Devonta Jason are both expected to step in immediately and give MSU big-play potential. Malik Dear should be back in the slot for the Bulldogs after redshirting last year following an ACL injury.

There are other familiar names. Jackson provides experienced depth. Keith Mixon had just one receiving yard fewer than Jackson’s team high last year. Big-bodied Jamal Couch is a year older.

Options are aplenty. Those options now must start to prove they are reliable and can be counted on before the season gets underway.

Could an overlooked
player emerge?

If the answer here is yes, perhaps the best guess as to who it’d be is redshirt freshman wide receiver Austin Williams.

Williams received rave reviews in the spring and provided plenty of production in MSU’s two spring scrimmages, including the annual Maroon and White Game at Davis Wade Stadium. There should be opportunities for Williams too as the Bulldogs look for anyone to step up at receiver.

Tight end Dontea Jones might be another player to watch. There are other, more experienced tight ends on the roster, but Jones impressed several coaches this spring. After enrolling at MSU in January of 2016, nearly three years later now, Jones might be ready to finally provide his first significant production for MSU, especially if he can carry over his solid work from spring into preseason camp.