2009 Mississippi State Preview - Offense
Mississippi State QB Tyson lee
Mississippi State QB Tyson lee
Posted Jun 3, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldog Offense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Mississippi State Preview | 2009 Mississippi State Offense
- 2009 Mississippi State Defense | 2009 Mississippi State Depth Chart
- 2008 MSU Preview | 2007 MSU Preview | 2006 MSU Preview 

What you need to know: What do you do for an offense that finished 115th in the nation in scoring and 113th in yards? You bring aboard someone who knows how to get an offense moving. Now, is head coach Dan Mullen going to be able to jump-start the Bulldog offense despite not having a Tim Tebow or Percy Harvin to count on? The MSU attack welcomes back seven returning starters, but first, it needs to get more out of a veteran line that had a nightmare of a time in pass protection. Tyson Lee is back as the starting quarterback, but he'll be pushed this summer by superstar recruit, Tyler Russell, who's expected to be the main man for the program for four years. The star of the offense will be Anthony Dixon, the senior back who has gotten in better shape and will be used as a receiver and under center along with his rushing duties. The receiving corps needs a ton of work, but the coaching staff knows this and hammered the position hard in the recruiting season. Everything won't come together right away for the spread attack, but there are good players to build around for 2010.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tyson Lee
153-260, 1,519 yds, 7 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Anthony Dixon
197 carries, 869 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Brandon McRae
51 catches, 518 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Anthony Dixon
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman WR O'Neal Wilder
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


Projected Starter: Senior Tyson Lee should be a good fit for the new offense, and he'll get a little bit of a shot to show he can handle the work. While he's only 5-10 and 200 pounds, the star JUCO transfer of a few years ago is a decent passer completing 59% of his throws for 1,519 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions last season, and he was mobile netting 37 yards and a touchdown, but running well at times when he wasn't getting sacked. While he got better as the year went on, he didn't show enough to cement him in the starting spot if a certain recruit turns out to be as good as advertised.

Projected Top Reserves: Tyler Russell hasn't saved the Mississippi State football program yet, but desperate fans are hoping he will in a big hurry. The 6-4, 200-pound star recruit isn't quite the right fit for Dan Mullen's offense would like to do, but he's a player. A top pro-style passing prospect, he has a live arm, smarts, and an ability to lead the way to wins. For his size, he's a decent runner. He threw 40 touchdown passes and just five interceptions as he took Meridian High to the Mississippi state championship last year.

Sophomore Chris Relf will be the forgotten man in the quarterback race. He doesn't have much in the way of experience, completing just 2-of-9 passes for 13 yards in his limited action, but he's a big, decent option with a live arm and the potential to grow into a good passer if given the shot. He's 6-3 and 235 pounds with the ability to push the ball down the field, but he'll be quickly passed by when Russell gets off the bus.

Watch Out For ... Lee to not just step aside and hand over the starting gig to Russell. Lee has enough experience to be given a shot early on, and with his mobility, he could become a nice fit for what the coaches want to do.
Russell. It's impossible to understate just how great the weight of the program is going to be on his shoulders. He's supposed to be the savior, and he might really be that good. The talent is there to become the best passer the program has had in decades.
: Proven backups. As good as Russell is, it'll be a problem if the veteran team has to rely on the true freshman from game one. The receivers aren't in place to make Russell better, when it should be the other way around.
Outlook: Wesley Carroll, the starter at the beginning of last year, moved on to FIU, and now it'll be Lee and the hope for Russell to be all that and a slice of pie early on. The inconsistent passing of last year should continue, but there will be more running from the quarterbacks this year. The coaching staff should make this position better and more consistent, even if there isn't much help from the receivers.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Until the passing game comes around, if it comes around, the offense will be all about Anthony Dixon. The senior got way too heavy, tipping in at around 255 pounds, but he got in better shape and appears ready to be a special back as the focal point of the attack. He's not a trim, for him, 6-1 and 235 pounds with 4.5 speed and the flash to take off on big runs and be used as a receiver. He ran for 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2007 but was held in check last year rushing for 869 yards and seven scores with three 100-yard games. However he was stuffed by the better defenses, rushing for just 26 yards against Alabama and five yards by Auburn. Already the school's all-time leading rusher, with 2,788 yards and 30 scores, he'll be a lock for 1,000 yards if he can stay healthy.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Christian Ducre is a nice No. 2 back with enough experience to get more work behind Dixon. The former Tulane transfer is a 6-0, 220-pound thumper with excellent quickness, but he has to get over a shoulder injury. He got a most of his work over the first half of the season, but he was an afterthought over the back half with just 11 carries in the final six games. Versatile enough to be a third down back if needed, he caught 13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown to go along with 222 rushing yards and two scores.

5-9, 205-pound senior Arnil Stallworth was an ultra-productive high school back and has a good combination of power and quickness, but he has a bad knee that has kept him out this offseason. He ran for 50 yards and a touchdown in his limited action last season, but he'll be the third man in the mix once he comes back healthy.

Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to lean heavily on the ground game, even more than last year's staff did. Once Ducre and Stallworth are ready, there will be more of a rotation to keep Dixon fresh.
Dixon. Great before this offseason, he might be a new runner with a renewed commitment to fitness and more quickness than he showed last season. It's not crazy to think he could be the SEC's best back. Not only will he be the team's top back, he'll also line up at times at quarterback and can line up wide at receiver.
: Backup health. While Stallworth is supposed to be back from a knee injury and Ducre will be find when his shoulder gets a little time to heal, it's not a good sign that they're already hurt. It doesn't help and Robert Elliott is out with a torn up knee. There has to be a good rotation early on for the overall offensive plan to work.
Outlook: While there's lots of work to be done elsewhere to get ready for the new offense, the running backs are ready. Dixon is a major star who should be in for a huge season, and once Ducre and Stallworth get a little time, they'll do more this year. This should be the strength of the offense by far.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters
There are problems in the receiving corps with all the new faces needing to produce right away, but the one sure thing, eventually, will be Brandon McRae, the team's leading returning receiver. The 6-4, 200-pound senior caught 51 passes, 20 more than the No. 2 target, for 518 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a ten-catch, 102-yard day in the loss to Georgia Tech. The former transfer from Morehead State will be the starter on the X once he gets back healthy from a broken leg.

Taking over a starting role will be redshirt freshman O'Neal Wilder, an interesting X factor with 6-5, 190-pound size and some of the best wheels in the receiving corps. He was expected to see time early on as a dangerous deep threat, but the former track star was extremely raw and wasn't ready yet. Now he'll bring his next level speed and potential to the Z position where he was terrific at times in spring ball.

In a rotation at the H, and likely the starter come fall, is Delmon Robinson, a 5-9, 180-pound sophomore who caught 12 passes for 125 yards. He struggled with a hamstring injury this offseason and wasn't able to show off what he could do, but he's very smart, very fast, with 4.4 speed, and a potential gamebreaker with enough speed and quickness to be used as a returner.

The MSU version of a tight end will be Kendrick Cook, who'll take over for starter Nelson Hurst, who left the program after catching just two passes. Cook, a 6-4, 250-pound sophomore has nice speed and good hands. While he didn't do anything last season, he has tremendous upside and could quickly become a key go-to target with the potential to create mismatches.

Projected Top Reserves:  While he might not be the starter at the X, with McRae already in the spot, JUCO transfer Leon Berry was one of the stars of spring ball. The 6-0, 190-pound junior was a key recruit for Mullen, and he didn't disappoint after catching 59 passes for 1,003 yards and nine scores, averaging 17 yards per catch, and he has No. 1 target potential.

Working on the H will be 5-11, 185-pound redshirt freshman Terrance Davis, an ultra-athletic prospect who will be fine once he learns how to catch. He was rocky early on this offseason in all areas, but the light started to go on and he became a crisper route runner and he wasn't fighting the ball as much. A quarterback prospect coming out of high school, he's starting to figure out what he's doing.

Junior Brandon Henderson will be the main backup at the Y behind Cook, but the 6-2, 245-pounder is built more like a fullback and is a good blocker. He caught six passes for 70 yards and a score, doing all his work in the middle of the season, but he has had problems with an ankle injury and was out for a time this offseason. 

Watch Out For ... the recruits. Mullen knew he needed an upgrade at receiver in a big way, and he made sure he brought in prospects with seven possible targets to work with. Berry is the ready-made one of the bunch, but true freshman Chad Bumphis is a player who might see the field sooner than later.
Strength: A passing offense. While it wasn't exactly the Arizona Cardinal receiving corps out there, it's not like there was a passing game that could show off what the receivers could do. There's speed and there's upside with players like Robinson, Wilder, and McRae all interesting players to keep an eye on now that the ball will be flying around a bit more.
Weakness: Health. The new offense desperately needed everyone in place to get as many good reps as possible, but it didn't happen with McRae and Robinson out and with so many new faces in the mix. The passing game will be a practice-by-practice process.
Outlook: A major disaster last year, the receiving corps will at least get its shot to make more big plays this season. McRae is a keeper and Berry could be too good to not be the star of the show after a few games, but this year will be all about developing the young prospects. There's a chance the projected No. 2 offense, with QB Tyler Russell and all the true freshman receivers, will be better than the starters by a long shot once the season gets going.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The star of the front five will once again be Derek Sherrod, a 6-7, 310-pound junior moved over to left tackle after serving as a key backup in several spots as a freshman. He got bigger and stronger over the last year, and he started to find his stride late last year and finished with ten starts after missing the first two games hurt. He has the size and he has the experience, but he has to be far more consistent in pass protection.

Next to Sherrod at left guard will be Quentin Saulsberry after spending last year starting every game at right tackle. A star high school defensive tackle, the 6-3, 300-pound sophomore was thrown to the wolves last year and struggled. Really struggled. He's a big, tough blocker who couldn't do much against the better pass rushers, and now he's working at both guard spots and should be far more comfortable on the inside.

6-2, 300-pound junior J.C. Brignone started 11 games at center and wasn't bad. He was a key backup two yards ago, but he had problems with a shoulder injury, and he was able to grow into the role in the middle last year. While he might be a better guard in the new offense than a center, he'll be the starter at his regular spot.

The new starter on the line will be 6-4, 310-pound redshirt freshman Tobias Smith, who'll take over for Craig Jenkins. A nice recruit last year, he's one of the team's strongest players and best athletes for his size. He has all the measurables, he'd light up the NFL Combine right now, but he needs to grow into a steady blocker to catch up with his strength and quickness.

Sophomore Addison Lawrence will step in at right tackle with Saulsberry moving to guard. Originally considered a tight end, he hit the weights hard over the last two years to get up to 295 pounds on his 6-5 frame. Very athletic and very smart, he should be a perfect fit for the new offense with a little bit of time to work.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Mark Melichar was the starter at left tackle last season for two games before suffering a knee injury and missing the rest of the year. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he's a big blocker who's back in the mix and good enough to start on the outside if needed, but will push for time at right guard behind Tobias Smith. He's athletic, and now he has the bulk on a frame equipped to handle it.

6-5, 315-pound senior Craig Jenkins has seen plenty of action over the last several years at guard, and got the call six times last season at right guard. One of the team's most versatile blockers, and among the most experienced, he'll start out behind Saulsberry at left guard but could see time anywhere needed in the middle.

Watch Out For ... a lot of moving around. This is a different offense with new responsibilities in the Mullen spread attack. The coaching staff will play around with the combination up until the opener to get the five best blockers on the field no matter what's needed to make it happen.
Experience. Three starters are back, not including spot starters like Jenkins. With a new offense in place, this group should be able to make a quick transition.
Production. The line was a disaster last year even though it was supposed to grow into a strength. MSU was 114th in the nation in sacks allowed and paved the way for the nation's 105th ranked ground game that averaged just 100.58 yards per try.
Outlook: The line was supposed to be a strength last season with a veteran group working around some promising new stars. It didn't work. O line coach John Hevesy, who's joining Mullen from Florida, has work to do, but he has an experienced line that should be better only because it won't be asked to do as much. As strange as that sounds, the big line doesn't have to dominate; it has to hold its own and let the skill players do the rest. This group won't pound away for long drives, but it should be better.
Rating: 6