What we know – and still don't know – about Mississippi State entering game week
It's finally here – game week. Mississippi State travels to LSU to open up the 2020 football season on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. After an unusual few months, football is almost here.
As the Bulldogs and Tigers prepare to do battle in Baton Rouge – six days away from kickoff – here are a few things we know about Mississippi State, and some things we still don't, as the preseason wraps up and things start to count.
We know K.J. Costello will be the starting quarterback. Well, officially, we don't know that. But let's be honest. We know that. We've pretty much known it since the spring. And while you can never really predict the future, everything sets up for him to have a monster year. He's a talented, smart veteran in the Mike Leach Air Raid offense with an NFL Draft stock to try and improve. Honestly, it'd be a bit shocking if he doesn't find some level of success wearing maroon and white, given his circumstances.
We still don't know for sure who all Costello will be throwing to. We've got a pretty good idea as to who Mississippi State's top six receivers are – Osirus Mitchell, Austin Williams, JaVonta Payton, Malik Heath, Tyrell Shavers and probably Lideatrick Griffin. But there is still room for others to make a move into the Bulldog rotation, which will probably primarily be about eight guys. So who are the other two or three receiving options? It doesn't seem likely Garrett Shrader will be one immediately, though it wouldn't be shocking if he's in that mix soon. So other options are Jaden Walley, Geor'quarius Spivey and Brad Cumbest, among others. The guess here is that it's Walley and Spivey in the two-deep against LSU.
We know the starting lines seem solid. Both of the Bulldog starting fronts have earned praise in training camp. So if football games are indeed won in the trenches as it has always been said, that seems like a good start for MSU. And at least on the offensive side, there's plenty of room to tweak if things aren't going so well. There's good, experienced depth there. The Bulldogs really have about seven or eight offensive linemen that seem, at the very least, like they'll be able to hold their own in the SEC. However...
We still don't know if the Bulldogs have enough depth on the defensive front. The starting group should be strong with Marquiss Spencer and Kobe Jones on the ends and either Jaden Crumedy or Nathan Pickering on the interior. But it's anyone's guess what the Bulldogs will get beyond those four players. We know some of the names that will be counted on – Aaron Odom and Jack Harris among them. But how much of a drop-off will there be when the starting group needs a breather? If Odom, Harris and the D-line backups can hold their own, that makes one feel a good bit better about the State defense overall.
We know Martin Emerson, Marcus Murphy and Fred Peters give the Bulldogs some level of proven talent in the secondary. State's secondary might ultimately tell the tale of this season. If they can be just average, the Bulldogs might be in excellent shape this season given you should probably expect the Air Raid to put up points and the front six of the defense to be somewhere around the middle of the pack in the league. With that said, the talents of Murphy, Emerson and Peters provide hope. Murphy is one of the best all-around athletes on the team and he's a difference maker. Peters was loved by the previous defensive staff and this one, too, so he obviously has a skill set that multiple eyes believe can get the job done. And Emerson came onto the scene and started games as a true freshman a year ago. That speaks well of his abilities. These three are a good start towards the State secondary stepping up.
We still don't know who starts opposite of Emerson at corner and if the Bulldogs have quality backups in the defensive backfield. It'll either be Esaias Furdge or Emmanuel Forbes starting at the other corner spot, but that call hasn't been decided (or at least not announced) as of yet. There's another safety position to settle, too. Even when that's all figured out, the Bulldogs have to hope they have the reserves to account for fatigue or injury. Probably more than any other spot on the field, MSU needs a newcomer or two to come on in the secondary and impress immediately.
We know it's a fresh start for State special teams. And most of you reading this probably couldn't be happier about that. There are no two ways about it. Special teams, overall, were a disaster last year. Placekicking and punting were generally fine. Everything else? Not so much. Now though, there's a new special teams coach (Matt Brock) and there seems to be an emphasis from him and Leach on the importance of that phase of the game. We'll see if it pays off.
We still don't know exactly who all will be counted on in those special teams roles though. Jo'Quavious Marks and JaVonta Payton will probably factor in the return game somewhere, but who else? And all reports have been that there has been a good placekicking battle between incumbent Jace Christmann and transfer Brandon Ruiz. Christmann has been Mr. Consistency for MSU the last few seasons, but could he really be beaten out for the job? We'll soon see, at that spot and all the others.
And finally, most importantly...
We know Mississippi State football is back. Hallelujah!
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