STARKVILLE — Mississippi State doesn’t necessarily need Malik Dear this season, especially considering he would be coming off an ACL tear, but the Bulldogs are certainly not in the position to turn away another reliable receiver, either.
After suffering the injury in the spring and missing the season’s first two games, Dan Mullen said on Monday that there’s a chance Dear will play Saturday against No. 11 LSU at Davis Wade Stadium (6 p.m, ESPN).
Dear has to first practice first. The junior receiver (who has a redshirt year available) has yet to participate in a full practice.
“I know he really wants to play this week,” Mullen said. “He’s on the edge this week. Talking to trainers, he might practice some and have a limited role in this game this week for us. We’ll see how he does. It’s up in the air.”
Even if Dear is available and plays against LSU (2-0), the expectation is that Mississippi State (2-0) will ease him back into action.
The Bulldogs can afford to do that, too, because they have Deddrick Thomas and Keith Mixon, two receivers who possess similar skills to Dear as slot receivers. Down the road, expect Dear to be utilized inside and at H-back on screen plays, decoys, over the middle and possibly featured in run-pass options (RPOs).
The thing is, Mississippi State has already been doing that with solid results through two games. The Bulldogs could instead use another deep threat in the spread, but that’s not happening this season. So the addition of Dear adds depth to what may be Mississippi State’s look this year offensively: a solid running team that utilizes underneath throws and RPOs.
At 5-foot-9 and 224 pounds, Dear isn’t going to add a sudden vertical dimension to the offense, but he’ll help with what Mississippi State is already doing well.
“Against linebackers, he is a really good matchup for us,” quarterback Nick Fitzgerald said. “If we can get him back and we can make it work for him, that’s going to be a big-time pickup for us.”
The Bulldogs could open the offense up a bit more and go vertical with tight ends, but their receivers haven’t consistently broken free from defenders to get open when Fitzgerald drops back to pass.
“Sometimes they do,” Mullen said, “and sometimes they don’t.”
Wide receiver was an area of concern going into the season for MSU. Donald Gray leads the team with seven receptions and 76 yards. Behind him is Thomas with five catches and 54 yards. Mixon has made only one catch for 15 yards and didn’t play much after leaving the Louisiana Tech game with an apparent injury.
After a slow start offensively, MSU looked efficient in the second quarter when Fitzgerald led an 11-play, 76-yard drive for a touchdown. Fitzgerald’s first four completions went for less than 10 yards each before he connected with Gabe Myles for the 21-yard touchdown. The drive featured RPOs, which Mullen said the Bulldogs may be better equipped for because of Fitzgerald’s progression as a quarterback.
“When you’re RPO-ing, you’re making really fast decisions. I’m asking you, the ball is snapped in 1.2 seconds, to do one of three things off the reaction of what the defense does,” Mullen said. “That takes practice, experience and time.”