MSU wide receivers still looking for consistency
Mississippi State wide receiver Leon Berry (9) breaks a play in the game against Memphis. (Kerry Smith/The Associated Press)
The definition of a trend is the general direction of how something moves.
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The irony involved here is the Mississippi State offense is hoping to avoid its dropped passes becoming a negative trend by doing the only thing they can think of â move on.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen counted six dropped passes by his receivers immediately after Thursday nightâs 17-14 loss to Auburn.
âThe quarterbacks did their job,â sophomore receiver Chad Bumphis said after the game. âIt really came down to us as receivers and we just didnât make the plays that were there to be made.â
He then saw the same number when he watched the film the next day and the Bulldogs second-year head coach wasnât comforted by the fact he was right on the figure less than 24 hours before.
âThe game was there to be taken on both sides,â Mullen said Friday. âWe ended up with 18 missed tackles, six dropped passes and thatâs not how you win SEC football games.â
The one play that MSU fans are still talking about this week was a drop by senior receiver Leon Berry on a fourth-and-10 play with less than a minute to play inside Auburn territory. Berryâs inability to secure the pass thrown by Chris Relf resulted in a turnover on downs and senior kicker Sean Brauchle on the sidelines next to his head coach without an opportunity to at least tie the game.
âThatâs something thatâs really hard to forget because Iâll admit it â I thought about it all weekend,â Berry said. âIt hurt me bad because I felt like I let the team down after weâd worked so hard.â
This has caused Berry and the receivers to be the butt of jokes all weekend long from fans and even teammates they text constantly.
âWeâve been catching stuff all week but thatâs because itâs something we can control,â Berry said. âThatâs our main emphasis this week.â
Berryâs offensive coaches have said they wouldnât want to have any other receiver as the target.
âIf you ask me Iâd do it again a thousand times,â MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. âYou got a senior receiver and Leon will make that play nine out of 10 times. Iâm looking forward to him having another opportunity and I know he is too.â
Mullen suggested the previous play that saw Relf get sacked as much more crucial even if it potentially wonât be remembered as well by the maroon and white faithful.
âLeon ran an unbelievable route on the previous play to be man coverage but our line missed the protection,â Mullen said. âChris checked the protection and the line missed it. Thatâs a bigger play to me cause Leon won, was cleaned and might have scored.â
After the Bulldogs (1-1) only have two receivers with more than five receptions total and they play the same position (Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens).
Both MSU quarterbacks (Relf and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell) have said this week practice has included more 7-on-7 drills to improve the pitch-and-catch consistency. Mullen said he had little problem with the accuracy of the throws by his signal callers throughout the conference-opening loss to the Tigers.
âA lot of the throws are designed to be that way either to that shoulder or outside right so no issue there at other with the passes for the most part,â Mullen said.
Before the Bulldogs travel to Baton Rouge to play its first Southeastern Conference road game in one of the most hostile environments in the country, they are trying to simulate the crowd noise by playing the LSU band music throughout the week of practice. The MSU coaching staff has admitted most of their young players especially at receiver will need to get used to the volume of 90,000 fans at Tiger Stadium.
One of the players that has surprised even his fellow teammates is sophomore Arceto Clark. The Verona native has completed his transition from defensive back to wide receiver and the 5-foot-10 athlete was one of the targets on the final drive against Auburn.
âWhen you look at our top six receivers, Iâm not in a panic right now as to which one of those guys is on the field at a given time,â Mullen said. âNo one has stepped up to say âwow that guys is going to make every playâ and also none of them have gone the other way to say I donât trust this guy being in the game.â
Clark currently is fourth on the team in catches and yards after late last fall being seen put in receiver drills as an emergency due to injuries.
âI always knew I could play on both sides of the ball but I guess the new coaching staff needed to figure out where to put me,â Clark said. âI just see myself as a playmaker and would love the opportunity to do that.â
One of the playmakers that Mullen and the MSU coaching staff would love to have fully healthy Saturday is junior tight end Marcus Green. Last year, Green had five catches for 100 yards including a 50-yard touchdown pass that put the Bulldogs within 23-21 going into the final quarter.
Green suffered an injury to his right knee that kept him out of the second half of MSUâs 17-14 home loss to Auburn Thursday night. However, Green was not made to the media after Mondayâs practice due to medical treatment being scheduled immediately afterwards. MSU officials said Greenâs participation in the first workout of the week was limited.
Mullen said Green had received his MRI exam this weekend and his confident talk when he sat down with reporters Friday about Greenâs health was apparently backed up by the medical scan. The second-year head coach said Green âshould be good to go.â