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High Flying Offense Fuels Mississippi State Spring Game

Mississippi State helmet rests on the sidelines of at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field
© Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Jeff Lebby era began at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, and one thing is for sure: the new Mississippi State Bulldogs coach has his quarterback. The annual Maroon-White game took place Saturday in Starkville with the Maroon(offense) winning 67-53 in a modified scoring set as are most spring games.


Lebby's Offense Soars with Big Plays

Lebby has had success working with quarterbacks who can put up numbers, and he has another one with former Baylor quarterback transfer Blake Shapen. Shapen looked like he had been running the Lebby up-tempo offense his entire career. Shapen was nearly perfect on the day going 18-22 for 312 yards and 3 touchdowns, all before the half. Bulldog fans can expect accuracy, Shapen won the 2021 Big Twelve Championship Game Most Outstanding Player on the shoulders of a 17 consecutive pass performance against Oklahoma State. Not to be outdone was Chris Parson, who went 7-13 for 124 yards and a pair of scores. While both quarterbacks had big days, it looks as if the job is Blake's to lose.


Transfer Wide Receivers Explode for Showtime State

The Bulldogs displayed the ability to have the big explosive play largely to the two transfer receivers that should thrive in Lebby's offense. Kelly Akharaiyi, the 6-foot-1 senior receiver from Irving, Texas who transferred in from the University of Texas El Paso. One of the top receivers in Conference USA, Akaharaiyi was named First Team All-Conference USA last season. Joining him will be Kevin Coleman the junior transfer from Louisville. With the two transfers, Bulldog fans should get used to the name Mario Carver, the freshman from Birmingham, Alabama who led all receivers with 96 yards on five catches including a 65-yard touchdown. Akaharaiyi had 5 receptions and 86 yards including a 40-yard score. Coleman contributed 76 yards and a touchdown. Explosiveness was the theme of the day as Lebby has coined the term "Showtime State."

Not to be outdone was the crop of tight ends led by Vanderbilt transfer senior Justin Ball, who hauled in two touchdowns on the day. Redshirt junior Colorado transfer Seydou Traore will join the former Commodore team captain. The tight end position is important in the Lebby offensive scheme. If Ball and Traore can stay healthy, the duo should be a problem in the red zone for the Bulldogs' opponents.


Promising Ground Game.

While the Bulldog running backs room may not be the marquee group in the country, in the Lebby offense, running back by committee seems the standard. The Bulldog offense had three rushers all rush for over 50 yards Saturday. Johnnie Daniels, the number one JUCO running back in the country last year and the first official recruit for Lebby when he took the job as Head Coach, led the way with 64 yards. Jeffery Pittman and Javaris Bufford had solid days with Pittman adding a rushing touchdown.

The running back room will get some help soon with Rashad Amos from Miami (Ohio) committing last weekend. The Bulldogs are also hoping to land the services of another transfer, Damien Martinez from Oregon State, who was on campus for a visit.


Revamped Defense for the Bulldogs

Coleman Hutzler has a daunting task ahead of him in replacing the output and leadership of Jett Johnson and Nathaniel Watson. Also, Hutzler is implementing a standard 3-4 for the defensive front, a new look from the 3-3-5 look that the Bulldogs have run the last four years.

Stone Blanton the Jackson, Mississippi native who transferred in from South Carolina, can play the Mike or Will position. His skills should translate into similar production that the Bulldogs got from Johnson and Watson.

Branden Jennings, the Jacksonville, Florida native looked good during the spring game. Jennings caused a lot of havoc off the edge. Jennings showed his ability to drop back in zone coverage and secure the edge in run defense. The 6-foot-4 240-pound linebacker will be a handful for offenses this year.

De'Monte Russell shared a special moment on the field as he and his brother, sophomore Donterry Russell, combined for a sack with joint pressure during an offensive drive.

The secondary gave up some big plays, but the play that stood out was made by Tyler Woodard as he punched the ball away from Kevin Coleman just as he was about to score.


Takeaways from the Mississippi State Bulldogs Spring Game

The offense under Lebby and run by Shapen have the chance to put up special numbers. Lebby ran offenses traditionally score and score often. If the offensive line can stay healthy the ball comes out so quickly that unless it is a complete bust, defensive linemen won't have the ability to get to Shapen. The Bulldog offense will go fast, and the introduction of coach-to-player communication will more than likely help that.

Coleman and Akaharaiyi put on a display of route running and speed, something you need to compete against the vaunted SEC defenses. The ground game looked solid as a committee, not one back stood out over the rest and the Bulldogs will continue to rotate as needed.

The tight end position is in good hands with Ball and Traore. There was a stretch in the game when Traore caught four or five passes in a row. Lebby's offense will put pressure on teams this year with that combination of wide receiver play and talented tight ends.

Defensively for the Bulldogs, secondary is going to be the question. They gave up a lot of big plays, especially early but they did settle in. The point of attack has to be better for the front seven in stopping the run and applying pressure to the quarterback. The edge rushers had some success and like the running back room, the linebackers may be by committee as well.

The Lebby era is underway, and it has the looks of "SHOWTIME STATE."


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