Mississippi State didn’t have much of a running game last year. Between offensive line troubles, Ashton Shumpert struggles, and the lack of a breakout guy to win the running back job, the Bulldogs just couldn’t move the ball on the ground very well.
But it’s a new year. There’s a new offensive line. There’ll be a new quarterback. And now Mississippi State has to find someone to emerge at running back. The Bulldogs have plenty of guys with potential, but these guys need to play at a high level for this year’s offense to be successful.
Notable Losses: None
Key Returners: Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert, Dontavian Lee, Aeris Williams
Big Additions: Nick Gibson (coming off a redshirt season) and Alec Murphy (coming off a redshirt season)
Other Players Worth Noting: Malik Dear (plays wide receiver but has the tools to be a running back)
There’s a lot of depth in this group, but right now there’s no clear cut separation between the guys at the top of this position and the guys at the bottom. Expect a running back by committee approach, because there’s a variety of guys in this group that each bring something to the table.
It’s almost certain that Brandon Holloway will be a starter this season. With nobody else having clearly taken the job from him, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be the starter. His speed and athleticism make him dangerous in the open field, the trick is getting him there. But he should be able to make life easier for whichever quarterback is getting him the ball.
Next is the log jam of guys that are battling to be the bruising back that compliments Holloway’s speed. Ashton Shumpert has the build and strength to be the perfect guy for this role. He showed some flashes of greatness at the end of the 2014 season. But for whatever reason, it was like he was running into a brick wall every time he got the ball.
And then there’s the talented sophomores that are looking for their chance to breakout. Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams have been fighting for playing time since they’ve arrived on campus, and 2016 might be the season where that is finally realized. Don’t be surprised if these two creep up the depth chart and own the majority of the snaps by the end of the season.
Add in Nick Gibson and Alec Murphy and the Bulldogs have plenty of guys to hand the ball off to. I wouldn’t expect these guys to get significant playing time this season, but should injuries become an issue, having these guys is big in terms of depth.
And we can’t forget about Malik Dear. Although he’s going to split his time between playing running back and receiver, his stocky build and ability to accelerate quickly to get up the field make him perfect to be a running back in Dan Mullen’s system.
The bottom line is that Mississippi State has a stable of running backs giving Dan Mullen plenty of options for 2016. There’s no shortage of talent anywhere in the backfield, but that talent and potential must be realized for this season.