The match-up between Oklahoma State and Mississippi State provides what couldn't be a more stark contrast of styles. Oklahoma State, of course, is notorious for their hurry up, spread offense; while the Bulldogs favor a more deliberate, physical style of play.
It's a great contrast between the overall mentalities in the Big 12 and SEC, and it'll make for an interesting match-up. What players in this game could be taking their talents to the next level in the future?
Oklahoma State Head Coach Mike Gundy will open the season with split reps at the quarterback position, as third year sophomore J.W. Walsh and senior Clint Chelf continue their battle for the starting role. Walsh, a coaches son and former high school teammate of his team’s top WR Josh Stewart, is certainly the more gifted in terms of pure arm talent and athleticism, but Chelf brought stability to the team late last year with consistent execution of the offense. Another question mark for OSU will be how they replace last year’s leading rusher Joseph Randle. Starting in the backfield is Jeremy Smith, who is a more compact, sturdier ball carrier that lacks the elusiveness or quickness of Randle. The big positive for this offense has to be their receiving corps, where the Cowboys return their top 4 receivers from 2012 and also bring back senior Tracy Moore from injury. Moore served as a bigger, physical slot receiver and big play threat after the catch for the ‘Pokes in 2011, but junior Josh Stewart emerged in his absence last year with 101 receptions, 1210 yards and 7 touchdowns. Stewart is quick, shifty and explosive out of the slot, where he’s showcased the ability to get upfield to attack down the seams or create yards for himself in the underneath passing game.
On the other side of things, defensive tackle Calvin Barnett (#99) will have to build on a disruptive 2012 season. Barnett will likely be facing Mississippi State’s All-American guard, Gabe Jackson (#61), who ranks #2 on our senior rankings. Matchup-wise, Barnett will need to work to avoid the initial punches of Jackson, whose hand strength can end defenders at the point of attack. I’d expect Barnett’s quickness and burst as a stunting DT to be on full display. At the second level, outside linebacker Shaun Lewis (#11) will also have his hands full with halfback LaDarius Perkins (#27), who also ranks #2 at his respective position group. Lewis lacks ideal measurables, but he’s instinctive, quick to the football and very durable (played in all 39 games since his freshman season). Running back Perkins sports a well-built frame and boasts impressive quickness of his own, with the burst to explode through the first level of the defense and break open big runs. And at the third level, corner Justin Gilbert (#4) will look to put a disappointing junior campaign behind him and convince scouts he’s bringing more than a plus physical skill set to the forefront. As a 6’0, near 200 pound corner with elite speed and very good ball skills, Gilbert’s biggest issues lie within his footwork and ability to transition at the top of routes; showing more balance in his pedal and anticipating out of Oklahoma State’s zone heavy defense will be key for Gilbert to maximize his draft potential.
For Mississipi State, Tyler Russell (#17) has a chance to elevate his game with better eye discipline in his pass progressions and cleaner throwing mechanics. From a physical standpoint, Russell brings plus tools to the table as a fairly athletic, 6’4, 220 pound gunslinger; Russell’s size and arm talent alone may make him a 5th or 6th round draft choice in 2014. As mentioned earlier, Gabe Jackson and LaDarius Perkins are players to watch offensively, but keep your eye out for slot receiver Jameion Lewis (#4). Replacing Chad Bumphis is no small task, but Lewis, who doubles as a dangerous returner, has the quickness and elusiveness to make a lot of things happen after the catch. Additionally, Russell has a tight end in Malcolm Johnson (#6) that can cause matchup problems in the secondary. Johnson was limited in fall camp due to an undisclosed injury, so his health will be something to monitor. At defensive end, the Bulldogs have a good one in Denico Autry (#90), whose length and athleticism allow him to make plays all over the field. Autry is still developing his hand usage and overall play strength at the FBS level after transferring in from the JUCO ranks last season, but he’ll be facing a makeshift offensive line as Oklahoma State lost their starting left tackle to an ACL injury. At linebacker, Mississippi State has another talented performer in Bernardick McKinney (#50). Although he’s still filling out his frame and learning the college game, McKinney impressed throughout last season as a redshirt freshman starter, showcasing plus athletic traits, instincts and range for a 6’5, 235 pound backer. In the defensive backfield, JUCO transfer Justin Cox (#9) fits the mold of recent MSU corners with a long, tall frame (6’3, 195 pounds) and exceptional ball skills –looking almost like a safety in his JUCO film, Cox hopes he can replace half of the 2012 season’s Johnthan Banks-Darius Slay combo. Senior safety Nikoe Whitley (#5) is the most experienced member of this Bulldog secondary; however, he’ll have to be far more consistent as a last line of defense player and dramatically improve on taking proper angles to the football. You see explosive power on contact and plus range from a single high position with Whitley, but he hasn’t quite “put it all together”.
Others to watch:
Deontae Skinner, OLB, Mississippi State - #11, 6’2, 250
(JR) Jamerson Love, CB, Mississippi State - #5, 5’10, 175
(JR) Robert Johnson, WR, Mississippi State - #12, 6’1, 225
Charles Siddoway, OT, Mississippi State - #77, 6’7, 300
(JR) Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State - #91, 6’6, 255
(JR) Kaleb Eulls, DT, Mississippi State - #92, 6’4, 290
Charlie Moore, WR, Oklahoma State - #17, 6’2, 202
Caleb Lavey, ILB, Oklahoma State - #45, 6’3, 235
Brandon Webb, OG, Oklahoma State - #51, 6’3, 326
Parker Graham, OT/OG, Oklahoma State - #71, 6’7, 315
(JR) James Castleman, DT, Oklahoma State - #91, 6’2, 296
Anthony Rogers, DT, Oklahoma State - #94, 6’3, 293