With the midway point of the season upon us, we decided to grade out every offensive and defensive position of the Mississippi State football team. As you would expect on a 6-0 team that's ranked #1 in the country, the progress report is looking pretty good. We mainly graded out the starters, only mentioning backups that have had a significant impact.
We'll begin with the offense, where the Bulldogs are putting up 530 yards a game and 41 points. If they stay at this pace, they will shatter the school record for yards per game that they broke last year. It has been a collective effort, and there's not really a weakness that you can point to from this group to this point in the season.
Dak Prescott is on pace to eclipse 4,000 yards of offense for the season and score over 40 total touchdowns. He is just the fourth quarterback in the last ten years to pass for 1,000 yards, rush for 500 yards, and score over 20 touchdowns through the first six games. The only other three players to accomplish this were all Heisman Trophy winners: Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Johnny Manziel. When polled, 91% of current Heisman voters have Prescott at the top of their ballot after week 7. He is easily the best quarterback in the history of Mississippi State, and without him, this 6-0 start and #1 ranking would have never happened.
running backs: A+
Josh Robinson is second in the conference with 689 rushing yards behind Georgia's Todd Gurley. He is averaging 7.0 yards yards per carry and has eight rushing touchdowns, which ties his quarterback for second in the SEC. Robinson has been a monster up the middle, around the edge, and in the passing game. Not only has he proved to be a dynamic weapon catching the ball, but his pass blocking has been exceptional. He is starting to creep into the Heisman conversation along with Prescott. He has far exceeded everyone's expectations up to this point.
wide receivers: B+
De'Runnya Wilson leads this group with 319 yards and six touchdowns. He has been a dynamic playmaker early in games and has showed great chemistry and timing with Dak Prescott. The back shoulder throw on the sidelines has been nearly unstoppable. Wilson has used his size to his advantage, and most cornerbacks haven't stood a chance. The scary part is this is only his third year ever to play the game of football.
Jameon Lewis has spent the last two games watching from the sidelines with an injury, but the senior is expected back next week vs Kentucky. In the four games that he did play, he averaged 55.8 yards per game, which is slightly higher than De'Runnya Wilson. The SEC's leading returning receiver is chomping at the bit to get back on the field. Freshman Gabe Myles has done well replacing Lewis and has looked just as shifty on screen passes and jet sweeps.
Robert Johnson hasn't been a huge factor catching the ball but has excelled in blocking on the outside. He is just as physical as Wilson and showed last season he is not afraid to run you over. Although he hasn't had the season he would have hoped for so far, it's only a matter of time before he breaks out.
The style of offense the Bulldogs run will prevent the wide receivers from putting up eye popping numbers. There have been some drops here and there, but they have all done their job and done it well.
offensive line/tight ends: A-
Blaine Clausell, Dillon Day, and Ben Beckwith have anchored what is one of the best lines in the SEC after six games. You can't say enough about the improvement of this group from last year to this year. The big boys up front manhandled LSU and Texas A&M and dominated the line of scrimmage. They are the main reason the Bulldogs managed to rack up over 500 yards of offense the first five games of the season. It wasn't perfect last week against a better Auburn defense, but they still created running lanes and gave Dak Prescott time to throw the football more often than not.
Tight ends Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill have also blocked great out on the edge. Johnson is a threat to catch the ball as well and proved that last week with a big game against Auburn.
Offensive line was the one major question mark for this team coming into the season, but they have removed all doubt. When you have a former walk on get SEC offensive lineman of the week two different times, you know you're doing something right.
We'll now take a look at the defensive side of things, which hasn't been as impressive as their counterparts. They have given up chunks of yards at times, but to their credit, have really tightened up in the red zone. While the secondary has been a concern at times, the front seven has been one of the best in the country.
defensive line: B+
Preston Smith has led what has been a phenomenal defensive front. Mississippi State is only allowing 120 rushing yards a game, and they have gotten to opposing qb's 21 times. That ranks second in the league. The Bulldogs have 9 or 10 guys they can rotate along the line, which is a big reason for their success. This is the deepest position on the team which has allowed them to stay fresh. Chris Jones, Kaleb Eulls, Ryan Brown, AJ Jefferson, and several others have had dominant moments, but Preston Smith has stole the show. He was named the SEC defensive lineman of the week for three straight weeks and could have been considered for the award again on two separate occasions. He has 4.5 sacks, 9 qb hurries, a forced fumble, 2 interceptions, and 2 blocked kicks.
This group has a lot of beef in the middle but needs a second pass rusher as good as Smith. Part of the reason for the deep passing plays allowed early in the season was from the quarterback having too much time to throw the football. If it weren't for that and allowing Nick Marshall to run wild last week, this grade could have just as easily been an A.
Benardrick McKinney continues to stay on pace for a first round draft pick. He leads the team with 41 total tackles and also has six tackles for loss and three sacks. You don't have to watch much film before recognizing who the leader of the defense is. McKinney flies around the field and delivers punishing blows to running backs.
Beniquez Brown is looking like he will have a future in the NFL as well. He has proved to be the second best player on that defense behind McKinney. He is second on the team with 30 tackles and has 5 tackles for loss. Just a sophomore, Brown has nowhere near reached his ceiling.
The other Brown on the team, Richie Brown, has been solid off the bench. He has defended four passes on the year and intercepted Texas A&M's Kenny Hill three times in one game. Christian Holmes, another backup, has quietly had a nice season as well tying for third on the team in tackles. There is not much drop off when these two come into the game.
Matthew Wells is an excellent do it all linebacker. Not only is he a great tackler in space, but he does a tremendous job covering receivers in the slot. He ties for the team lead with five passes defended. He has been in position time and time again to make plays, along with the rest of the linebackers. They are a big reason that Mississippi State's red zone defense is #1 in the league. There's not much negative you can say about their performance through six games.
In their defense, a lot of the yards they have given up have come when the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter. That still doesn't change the fact that the pass defense ranks dead last in the SEC, giving up 308 yards a game. Even in the Texas A&M game where receivers dropped eight or nine different balls, Kenny Hill was still able to throw for 360 yards.
The low point of the season came against UAB when the Blazers torched Mississippi State's secondary for over 400 yards passing. The good news is that in SEC games before the score has gotten out of hand, the secondary has done more than enough.
Will Redmond was picked on a little bit by opposing quarterbacks early on, but you wont see him be tested much the rest of the season. He has been a lockdown corner the past two games, covering the deep ball and destroying wide receiver screen passes. Redmond, along with Jay Hughes, have picked off two passes this season. They have been the bright spot in the secondary, especially as of late.
Taveze Calhoun, Kendrick Market, Jamerson Love, and Will Redmond all rank in the top seven on the team in tackles. That shows just how much opponents have thrown the ball against the Bulldogs. Is the secondary as bad as the numbers indicate? Absolutely not. Take away all the garbage time yards and everything looks a lot better. But as it stands now, it's hard to give them anything higher than a C+.
Not to leave the coaches out, we'll give them an A+ for the year to no surprise. Dan Mullen is the lead candidate for coach of the year at this point, and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has already been mentioned as a candidate if any big jobs open up. Every player on the team is performing at a much higher level than last year, and that's a credit to not only Dan Mullen but to every position coach on the team. They have had the players prepared for every game, and they have had them in position to make plays on nearly every snap. It says a lot about a coaching staff that can take a bunch of three star recruits and take them to #1 in the country.