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2008 Mississippi State Preview - Offense
Mississippi State RB Anthony Dixon
Mississippi State RB Anthony Dixon
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 2, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldog Offense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2008 - Offense


- 2008 CFN Mississippi State Preview | 2008 Mississippi State Offense
- 2008 Mississippi State Defense | 2008 Mississippi State Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Mississippi State Preview | 2006 CFN Mississippi State Preview 

What you need to know: The offense was along for the ride last year as the defense set the tone game after game, but that should change a little bit. After averaging fewer than 300 yards per game, this group has to do a better job of moving the chains. The running game should be far stronger with a jelled, veteran line paving the way for a strong trio of running backs, led by Anthony Dixon, but the passing attack has to start doing more after finishing 113th in the nation. The receiving corps is mediocre, lacking a true No. 1 target, while QB Wesley Carroll isn't the type of passer who'll make everyone around him better.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Wesley Carroll
134-255, 1,392 yds, 9 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Anthony Dixon
287 carries, 1,066 yds, 14 TD
Receiving:
Jamayel Smith
33 catches, 510 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Anthony Dixon
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Jamayel Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman RB Robert Elliott
Best pro prospect: Senior OG Anthony Strauder
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dixon, 2) Strauder, 3) Elliott
Strength of the offense: Running back, the right side of the line
Weakness of the offense: Big plays, wide receiver, quarterback

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Out of necessity, sophomore Wesley Carroll took over the quarterback duties and came up with a nice true freshman campaign, saving the season when Michael Henig was injured. He completed over half his passes connecting at a 53% clip, while showing off a little bit of mobility with 67 rushing yards. No, he doesn't have a big arm and he's not going to run for 20 touchdowns, but for a team like MSU, he has one very, very important talent: he's good at not throwing picks. While he gave away four in the loss to Arkansas, he didn't throw more than one in any other game, and he came within one pass of setting the NCAA freshman record for the most attempts in a row without giving one up. More than anything else this year, he has to stay healthy and be consistent, because there isn't an immediate, viable option behind him.

Projected Top Reserves: In the mix for the starting job will be Tyson Lee, a 5-11, 190-pound junior who comes over from Itawamba CC in Mississippi where he was a tremendous passer and good runner. While it might take a huge push to get the starting job on day one, he could end up taking over if Carroll struggles with his accuracy.

One of the key players going into the season, albeit under the radar, will be redshirt freshman Chris Relf, a big, talented prospect with a live arm and decent experience running the scout team. While he's not going to challenge for the starting job quite yet, he has more upside than Wesley Carroll and could eventually push for a little bit of playing time. He'll be the depth early on, so he has to be prepared to step in from day one.

Watch Out For ... Lee to be folded into the mix a little here and there to get his feet wet. Carroll is promising and has the experience to win, but he's not great at pushing the ball down the field and he wasn't efficient enough. Relf has more skills and could be the player who takes the offense to another level, while Lee could be ready to roll right now. Carroll is more of a caretaker.
Strength
:
Youth. Carroll and Relf will grow with the program over the next several years giving the offense a steady base to build around. They don't have to carry the offense, and there's not a ton of pressure on them, so they simply have to keep things moving and try not to screw up.
Weakness
:
The deep ball. Relf has an arm, and Riddell was a productive bomber at the JUCO level, but no SEC team will fear this group pushing the ball deep. Even if it means a bad pick here and there, Carroll has to try taking some big shots down the field to open things up.
Outlook: This would've been a strong situation but Michael Henig was forced to retire with a chronic hip problem, but this might be addition by subtraction. That's not a knock on Henig, but he would've been the starter, giving the team a good veteran to count on, while the team might turn out to be better by living through the development of Carroll, Lee and Relf. There won't be big yards coming from Carroll, but he has to be more efficient to take the heat off the ground game or else Lee will take over.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Junior Anthony Dixon was the team's top recruit a few years ago, and he has turned into everything the program could've hoped for. At 6-1 and 240 pounds with excellent 4.5 speed, he's the total package of rushing skills, and he's even a decent receiver, even if the passing game doesn't use him enough, with 14 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns last season. Leading the team with 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns, he was the offense at times, carrying the load with 20 or more attempts in nine games. Now he needs a little room, and a little help from the passing game to take the pressure off, as he only averaged 3.7 yards per carry.

Senior Brandon Hart can be used as a big 240-pound tailback or at fullback, but he only has three carries in the last two years. He's a blocker, and a good one. To hold on to the starting job throughout the year, he has to prove he can do more as a receiver and has to keep blasting open holes. With his experience, he could quietly grow into one of the SEC's more dependable fullbacks.

Projected Top Reserves: While Anthony Dixon is the clear star runner in the attack, junior Christian Ducre is a nice second option to deal with. The Tulane transfer has decent 222-pound size and excellent quickness, running for 487 yards and three touchdowns highlighted by a 119-yard day in the win over Kentucky. Versatile enough to be used as a third down type of back if needed, with 16 catches for 83 yards, he's also a key special teamer.

Dixon and Ducre form a good 1-2 punch, and now redshirt freshman Robert Elliott is looking to jump into the mix. A superstar recruit who passed over several other SEC schools to chose MSU over Ole Miss at the last moment, he has the breakaway ability missing from the offense over the last few seasons. He's not going to pound it like Dixon or Ducre, but when he gets to the outside, he could grow into a dangerous threat.

5-10, 205-pound junior Arnil Stallworth might be the odd man out after recuperating from a shoulder problem after struggling with a knee injury. An ultra-productive high school back, he has the hands to be used as a receiver, and if he's healthy, the quickness to be a good backup.

5-10, 230-pound senior Eric Hoskins was a key blocker in the fullback rotation with four starts, but he got hurt and only played in seven games. A shoulder nerve injury kept him out of spring ball, but he's expected to be back as one of the team's most devastating offensive hitters.

There will be a combination at fullback behind Hart and Hoskins with senior Taurus Young and redshirt freshman Ethan Stockett combining forces. At 255 pounds, Stockett has the potential to be a pounding blocker, while Young, a walk-on, won't get any carries and 228 pounds, won't see much of the field.

Watch Out For ... Elliott. Make no mistake about it, Dixon is the star of the show, but he hasn't been able to show off much of his decent speed. Elliott is the type of back who could create his own openings with his quickness, and then he could grow into the home-run hitter the offense hasn't had.
Strength
:
Options. You could do a lot worse than have a trio like Dixon, Ducre and Elliott. Any of these three could be a productive SEC starters and they'll all get plenty of work.
Weakness
:
Proven big-play ability. That's where Elliott could quickly change things. It's not Dixon and Ducre's fault, but they didn't crank out nearly enough big runs. With no help from the passing game to loosen things up, and an average season from the O line, they didn't have much room to rumble.
Outlook: This could be the team's strength, and it could be a good enough backfield to carry the team through the tight games. Dixon is a proven back who'll be the focus of every opposing team's gameplan, while Ducre can be a 5-to-7 carry back who can provide a consistent No. 2 option. Elliott is the wild-card. If he's half as good as expected, then there are plenty of options and more talent to work with to keep Dixon fresh.
Rating: 8


Receivers

Projected Starters
:
Senior Jamayel Smith is back for his second straight season at the inside Z position after starting out his career on the outside. The former walk-on grew into a role after a decent second half to his sophomore season, but now he has to prove he can be a consistent No. 1 target. While he went nuts against Arkansas with ten catches for 208 yards and two scores, including an 80-yard score, he was average against everyone else finishing with 33 catches for 510 yards and three scores. In other words, he only had 23 grabs for 302 yards and a score in the 12 non-Arkansas games.

Ready to take over in a big role replacing Tony Burks on the outside is senior Co-Eric Riley, a 6-1, 200-pound former JUCO transfer who made eight catches for 68 yards in a limited role. Used a little bit as a kickoff returner, he has excellent speed with the burst to potentially be the deep threat Burks wasn't on a regular basis.

Needing replace Eric Butler at tight end is sophomore Brandon Henderson, a 6-1, 250-pound sophomore who's built more like a fullback and has no appreciable experience. An ankle injury kept him out of the mix early on last season and he was never able to make an impact. That has to change early on as MSU could use a safety valve for the passing game.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Aubrey Bell is a big, tight-end sized 6-3, 217-pound target who has 11 career starts after being tried out at defensive back early in his career. After missing half his sophomore season suspended, he came back to make 14 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown as a key reserve, but he didn't break out like he was expected to with no more than two catches in any game. He has the speed to be a factor on the outside, and he'll push hard for the starting X job, along with Co-Eric Riley.

6-4, 200-pound junior Brandon McRae was one of the stars of last year's spring practices after transferring over from Morehead State, but he didn't do much of anything with just two catches for 50 yards despite playing in every game. Mostly a special teamer, he needs to be a steady option on the inside along with Jamayel Smith.

The interesting wild-card in the mix will be freshman O'Neal Wilder, who signed with the program last year but is now finally eligible. At 6-5 and 190 pounds, and with some of the best wheels in the receiving corps, he might be thrown to the wolves early on to provide more of a deep threat. However, the former track star is very, very raw with just a few years of football experience.

Pushing for the starting tight end job will be redshirt freshman Marcus Green, a former fullback who spent his first year learning the new position. If needed, the 6-2, 230-pounder could see time in the backfield as an interesting all-around option.

Watch Out For ... the top backups to see just as much time as the starters. The Bulldogs need receiver options and will go with the hot hands on a game-by-game basis. The top four receivers are interchangeable.
Strength: Size. The group looks the part with big targets with excellent speed. The top five projected wide receivers average around 6-3 and 200 pounds, and now they have to use their frames to be more physical.
Weakness: Talent. Does MSU have anyone who'll inspire more than a yawn from anyone in the SEC? There's experience and measurables, but there aren't enough SEC-caliber receiving threats.
Outlook: This could more of a problem than it appears. Smith isn't a true No. 1 target and will be erased by any top corner, and it's asking a lot for Bell, McRae and Wilder to make a big leap and become a 35-catch player. This group has to start making more big plays and has to be relatively consistent. The running game will be the focus, so all the MSU receivers have to do is exploit the single coverage and keep the chains moving.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters:
While Derek Sherrod moving over to left tackle, 6-5, 284-pound sophomore Mark Melichar will take over the right tackle job. He saw plenty of action as a reserve and should be a steady starter now that he's getting more work. He's athletic, but he still needs to hit the weights with the room and potential to add more bulk.

Next to Sherrod on the left side is 6-3, 290-pound senior Anthony Strauder, who made the successful move from right guard to left and now could be on the verge of All-SEC honors after a great second half of 2007. A 30-game starter, he's a durable rock who's versatile enough to move around on the line where needed and a load for the running game.

6-4, 305-pound senior Michael Gates will get the start at right guard after he came on at the end of the season to be a star against Ole Miss and UCF. Seeing time inside and out over the course of his career, he's more suited to guard where he should settle into the role as long as he can stay healthy. The one-time tight end has the athleticism, and now he has the strength and experience.

Moving to left tackle will be 6-5, 298-pound sophomore Derek Sherrod after a good freshman season. He was a key backup who proved he could handle himself in big games, and now the job is his after splitting time with J.D. Hamilton. While he's young and still developing, he has the talent to grow into an SEC star.

Looking to push for Royce Blackledge's starting center job is 6-1, 290-pound sophomore J.C. Brignone, who played in almost every game last year only missing time due to a shoulder injury. A guard by trade, he's being move to the middle to boost up the depth if he doesn't hold on to the gig

Projected Top Reserves:
Originally a Florida Gator, Mike Brown got cleared to play midway through his sophomore season and and ended up seeing becoming the team's best lineman over the last year-and-a-half. An athletic 6-5 and 300 pounds, he was a strong pass protector and a devastating run blocker as he settled into the left tackle job. Last year was about his immense potential, and he came through with an All-SEC season. Unfortunately, he's not on the team this year after getting booted for an off-the-field issue this March. He was nailed for possession of a firearm.

Combining with Gates at right guard is 6-4, 315-pound junior Michael Jenkins, who started 23 games so far at tackle and guard and will once again be one of the team's most versatile blockers. He'll get more than his share of starts somewhere up front, but as the team's biggest blocker, will more than likely stick inside.

Junior Johnny Carpenter could see time at center, but he'll start out behind Strauder at left guard. He has a little bit of experience, but the 6-2, 290-pounder has been limited by injury and needs time to become a starter. If needed, he could move over to any spot on the inside

The future of the line is in redshirt freshmen Quentin Saulsberry and Dakota Merritt, who'll be groomed to take over on the left side. The 6-3, 286-pound Saulsberry was a top high school offensive linemen, started out his MSU career as a defensive tackle, and now will play behind Mike Brown at left tackle. The 6-5, 302-pound Merritt will work behind Anthony Strauder at guard.

Watch Out For ... The left side to be strong. Strauder is as steady as they come and Sherrod will be a good one in the move.
Strength
:
The guards. Strauder and Gates are athletic, versatile blockers who now know what they're doing. They're crusty veterans who won't make too many mistakes.
Weakness
:
Center and proven depth. Carpenter and Brignone have to replace the leadership loss of Royce Blackledge in the middle, and while they're not likely to do that right away, they can't be the weak link in the chain.
Outlook:
It's taken several years, but the MSU line has gone from being pieced together, with several players looking for a place to fit in, to a strong unit that should actually be a strength. As long as injuries don't strike right away, and promising young prospects like Quentin Saulsberry, Addison Lawrence and D.J. Looney get time to figure out what they're doing, this group should only get better and better.
Rating: 7