One plays on the outside, the other plays in the slot. One is what they typically call a possession receiver, while the other possesses the elusiveness to shake and bake with the ball in his hands. One was a four-star recruit with big time offers, while one was a basketball player with offers few and far between. But there's one thing that MSU receivers Fred Ross and De'Runnya Wilson have in common: they are terrorizing opposing defenses this season.
Seldom talked about outside of Starkville, Ross and Wilson have quietly formed one of the better wide receiver tandems in the Southeastern Conference.
They each bring a different skill set to the table, and in a strange way, rely on each other for success. Defenses have to key on one -- and when a play is called to take Wilson for example out of the equation -- Dak say's as you wish, and hits Ross over the middle for a first down. Just like taking candy from a baby. When the defense takes the middle away from Ross, Dak hits De'Runnya on the outside in a one-on-one matchup for a long play (and often a touchdown).
Are they talented enough to be successful on their own? Absolutely, but if I had to guess, Ross is 100 percent more confident when Wilson is on the field, and vice versa. And I would be willing to bet Dan Mullen, as a play caller especially, loves the luxury of two elite wideouts on the field at the same time.
The show Wilson has put on as of late was expected by many coming into the season. Ross, on the other hand, has been a welcomed surprise for the Dogs. Not that anybody doubted his talent or wasn't aware of his strong finish in 2014, but I would be willing to bet that few fans expected Ross to be among the best receivers in the SEC after nine games.
He's not getting a lot of hype around the league as one of the better pass catchers, but he doesn't have to when he has the stats to back it up. He has more receptions per game in league play (eight) than any other receiver in the conference.
Ross has caught 11 or more passes in two of MSU's last five contests, both of which were road SEC games against Texas A&M and Missouri.
He's definitely a player MSU can ill afford to lose. Aside from providing steady hands at punt returner, he's been Dak's favorite target to throw to all season as evidenced by his 51 total receptions -- 14 more than Wilson and 31 more than anybody else on the team.
It's really funny when you think about it. Ross was one of those players not counted as a "returning starter" by the media since Jameon Lewis started in the slot, but here Ross is performing like he's been starting for four years. By the way, you can officially laugh at this point at the media who made the returning starters argument against MSU in the preseason. Hey, WE TRIED TO TELL THEM NUMBER OF SNAPS PLAYED WAS MORE IMPORTANT, but they wouldn't listen.
Speaking of those 51 receptions, Ross needs just 24 more to break the school record for receptions in a season. That's definitely within reach at the current pace he is catching balls week after week. As for an even more attainable goal, if he hauls in 14 more passes, he'll move up to second on that list ahead of Jameon Lewis.
Yardage wise, Ross currently sits at 548 which already eclipses the 489 he amassed last season. But he also scored five touchdowns last year, something he hasn't done quite as often this time around. Although he's caught a ton of passes and even racked up the yards at times, he's only scored two touchdowns.
That's where Wilson comes into the equation and takes up the slack.
Bear hasn't caught as many balls as Ross, but he's accomplished more with those opportunities. He has found the end zone eight times, six of those scores coming in the last four games. Some of his touchdowns have come on long passing plays -- like his first-half TD at Missouri -- but most have been a result of Dak spotting his one-one-one match up in the red zone.
Wilson's eight TD's rank second in the SEC -- one behind Arkansas' Drew Morgan -- and his 626 receiving yards ranks fourth. That might not be on pace to match his lofty preseason goal of 20 TD's and 1,000 yards, but he's putting himself in position to be an early entry into the NFL Draft. He needs just 64 more yards and one touchdown to match his numbers from a year ago.
His most impressive accomplishment has been the sheer amount of yards he gains nearly every time he touches the ball. Wilson is averaging just shy of 17 yards a catch. Like I said earlier, he may not catch an outrageous number of passes, but he sure is making the most out of the ones he does get.
Last week at Missouri, Wilson caught only four passes but somehow turned that into 102 yards and two touchdowns. Teams are attempting to lock down the 6-foot-6 monster in man coverage, and they're getting beat almost every time.
I do think Dak needs to target the big man more often. Even though Wilson is producing every week, I think he could do even more damage if he had a few more balls thrown his way. But then again, I'm not on the field reading pre-snap defenses like Dak is either.
There's no doubt that opposing teams' focus on Wilson is a big reason for his lack of targets, hence the increase in targets for Ross.
Regardless of who Dak throws the ball to more often, these two are in position for very strong finishes to the season. With the running game still in shambles, Dan Mullen may choose to air the ball out 45 to 50 times in the three remaining games.
And when you have an elite quarterback and two of the most underrated receivers in the SEC, can you really blame the guy?