Who Shall Lead Them? Receiving touchdowns

Over the next several weeks here on the HailState Beat we’ll be running a new football-related series each week, a series of series if you will, and we continue this week with Who Shall Lead Them? An attempt to discern who will lead Mississippi State in some of the more important and hard-to-guess statistical categories this season.

Today: who will lead MSU in receiving touchdowns in 2012?

Of all the Who Shall Lead Them posts we’ve done this week, this might be the one I’m most interested in. I’m interested in them all, of course, but this blog is not like children. I don’t love all posts equally.

But does Tyler Russell love all of his receivers equally? Well, the big-armed quarterback will have plenty of options at wide receiver in the fall. Back on Monday, we broke down that group and tried to figure out who will have the most yards and receptions in 2012, and it’s pretty clear there are several good candidates.

What makes things different this year, compared to the previous three seasons under Dan Mullen, is the variety. The last few years, MSU had about five receivers who pretty much looked and played the same way. They were all small. Great for possessions. Great for screens. Great for direct snaps and great for making short writers not feel so bad about their height during interviews.

Now, Mullen and offensive coordinator Les Koenning have an expanded menu at the position. With the addition of 6’4” redshirt freshman Joe Morrow and the emergence of 6’2” sophomore receiver-converted-to-tight-end Malcolm Johnson, Russell will have big and tall threats both downfield and in the red zone, something few quarterbacks at MSU have had in recent years.

Malcolm Johnson catches a touchdown.

I don’t think either will lead the team in yards or receptions, and to expect Morrow to be the best receiver on the team as a freshman is just foolish. But we learned in spring practices that the pair will likely be MSU’s top two options when the offense gets within yards of the end zone. No longer will Russell have to throw a fade near the back pylon to a 5’10” receiver.

The moments that stuck out the most for Morrow and Johnson, in my mind, came in one of the final practices in spring before the Maroon-White game on Super Bulldog Weekend. Rain had forced the Bulldogs indoors to the Palmeiro Center. With less room to spread out, Mullen decided to focus on situational work. The main situations? First through fourth downs between the 10-yard line and goal line. Nearly every time I saw the ball fly out of Russell’s hands and across the goal line, either Johnson or Morrow were jumping in the air to catch the pass at the end of its arc.

It wasn’t just the one practice, either. If their activities throughout the spring cross over to the fall, Morrow and Johnson will be the top targets in the end zone for Russell. And both are ready (and able) for the opportunity.

Johnson, as a matter of fact, has already proven his ability. Of the 11 passes he caught last season, three of them went for touchdowns, tying him for second on the team with Bumphis. The leader? 5’10” Arceto Clark with four scoring catches.

Now that he’ll be the premier player at tight end, and with a year of experience under his belt, Johnson’s numbers won’t be going anywhere but up. As for Morrow, he steps onto the field and is immediately the best at one thing already: being tall. His big frame is an easy target.

Johnson and Morrow may not have the volume of targets others will, but with their abilities in the deep passing game and their proficiency for out-jumping others in the end zone, they are the prime candidates to lead MSU in six-point catches.

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