Well folks, we are seven Saturday’s away from the Mississippi State football season, so it is time to begin FWTCT’s football breakdown. Each Saturday we will take a look at a different position group and identify key and incoming players, expectations, and an overall grade for each unit. We begin with the offensive line, a group which too often goes overlooked and it is perhaps the most important.
Four of the five starters are returning -- Elgton Jenkins (Senior Center), Deion Calhoun (Senior Right Guard), Daryl Williams (Junior Left Guard), and Stewart Reese (Redshirt Sophomore Right Tackle). Jenkins was recruited along with former bulldog J.T. Gray from Clarksdale, MS and has been something special. He has been placed on the Rimington Trophy watch list, an award given to the nation’s best center, as Jenkins would be the first bulldog to win the trophy.
Williams is a junior from Bessemer, AL, who filled in nicely and has received some heavy draft buzz as of late. Many have Williams as the number one offensive guard prospect in the country for 2020. The lone starter needing replaced is 3rd round selection to the Houston Texans, Martinas Rankin.
Not enough can be said for how Reese and Eiland executed at the tackle positions. From looking at multiple sources, it looks like these will be the five guys taking the field.
Other key returnees who could see action this year are redshirt juniors Tommy Champion and Michael Story. Champion, a transfer from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, is listed as a 6’5”, 330 lbs. offensive tackle from Jackson, MS, but he was recruited to Mississippi State as a 3* offensive guard. Coaches enjoy seeing ability to play multiple positions on the line, a particular reason why Champion is gifted.
Also make note of the fact that this the young man did not give up a single sack in his two years at CoLin Community College. Others to join from CoLin alongside Champion were defensive linemen, Deion Pope and Montez Sweat.
Story was recruited as a 3 star offensive tackle from Ripley, MS by ex-offensive line coach John Hevesy. Story started in two games, (Samford and Kentucky) in his redshirt freshman season.
A lot of people were not huge Hevesy fans, but he did an incredible job of training guys to be able to execute at multiple positions on the line. Both Champion and Story have a huge advantage of gaining playing time, being able to play across the line, along with having three years of experience under their belts. Look for them to step in when needed and exceed expectations.
While Mississippi State has come a long way in such a short amount of time, one area the program has struggled with is its ability to bring in big name offensive linemen. During the Mullen era, there was never a single 5 star lineman and only two 4 stars to sign during the eight years of recruiting by Mullen’s staff. The two 4 star signees were Martinas Rankin (2015), and Damien Robinson (2010 class) from Olive Branch, MS, who could never stay healthy (rankings pulled from 247 sports).
Recruiting rankings can vary, but Mississippi State has struggled to get big name guys to be in the trenches. Coach Moorhead’s staff has shown a good many signs early as it pertains to recruiting. So maybe we will see some big fellas starting to come our way.
The trend begins with Moorhead holding on to the commitment from 4 star tackle Kwatrivous Johnson, the dandy dozen from Greenwood,MS. Johnson is listed at 6’7.5” and 338 lbs, or in other words, HE IS A MONSTER!
Can you guess what Johnson’s high school coach said, ultimately setting him apart from other linemen his size? His Speed. In an interview conducted with the Clarion Ledger, Coach Gatewood said he would put Johnson against anyone when it came to speed. Footwork is something that most guys either have or not, and apparently Johnson has it, speaking for his multitude of gifts at the position.
Johnson was a HUGE signee for the Bulldogs, choosing Mississippi State over Alabama, Florida (we see you Mullen), Notre Dame, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt.
The only other offensive lineman joining Mr. Johnson in the 2018 class is Starkville High’s own, Kameron Jones, at 6’5”, 280 lbs. Jones chose the hometown bulldogs over Southern Miss, UL-Lafayette, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, and Arkansas St. The crazy story about Jones is that he was minutes away from signing with UL-Lafayete Ragin Cajuns when he received a call from Mississippi State offering him a scholarship, as staying home in Starkville was something he could not refuse. Jones will most likely redshirt this season, looking to gain as much experience as possible.
Expectations for the Group
Anytime a program returns all five starters (might as well count Eiland as a starter), there are going to be high expectations that follow. However, this unit set the bar a bit higher. Mississippi State’s offensive line finished tied for 5th in sacks allowed for the 2017-18 season, only giving up 13 all year (1 sack per game).
WE PLAY IN THE SEC!! To only give up 13 sacks in the best conference in football is absolutely unreal, and yes, that is also first in the SEC, tied with Missouri. The Bulldogs’ line has a power success rate (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown) that was 84.2%, SECOND in the nation only to Army, who runs a wing-t option offense.
In fact, you can look at nearly every category related to a team’s offensive line and you will find Mississippi State in the top-5 of nearly every one. People continue to brag about Mississippi State’s defensive line, backfield, and linebackers, but man where is the love for the group who allowed us to move the ball all year long?
Do not get us wrong, the other position groups are top notch, but it seems as though offensive lines do not get enough credit. What do we expect from this year’s line? We expect the boys to go toe-to-toe with the best of the best and win. The best part is knowing that we finally have some depth with guys like Champion, Story, Johnson, Tyre Phillips, and many more.
Position Group Grade: A
We were close to giving this group an A+, but Reese and Eiland are still redshirt sophomores, meaning they are still young and new to the collegiate game. Williams, Jenkins, and Calhoun are all veterans in the middle, and we feel confident that they will push their fellow starters in the right direction. We look forward to the first time this unit gives A-Train and new phenom Kylin Hill, arguably the SEC’s new one-two punch a hole to burst wide open score a quick six for the bulldogs this season. HAIL STATE!