Roaring around tracks at speeds upwards of 200 miles per hour, stock cars represent some of the fastest, most entertaining and most dangerous feats of sport in the world. Those who would get nervous approaching 90 MPH on an interstate gather to watch as professionals speed by at more than double their white-knuckle-inducing personal extremes, all in the name of competition and performance.
“It’s going to be very explosive,” the 6’5” junior receiver said, “a NASCAR offense. We’re going to go faster than we were going last year.”
MSU’s offense already led the Southeastern Conference in plays of 20-plus yards last season, so the amount of room for improvement might seem slim. However, Wilson – along with teammates and coaches – has a very clear explanation for why he expects to be even more explosive. It starts with All-SEC senior quarterback Dak Prescott, of course, but much of the expectation is predicated on the duo of Wilson and fellow junior Fred Ross.
Wilson is entering only his fourth year of playing football, but he’s quickly become one of the best receivers in the conference and country, a chore to tackle when he gets the ball and even harder to prevent from catching said ball in the first place. Ross came to MSU with much more polish and experience than Wilson, helping him to play as a true freshman, but lingering injuries hampered most of his first two years on campus.
However, down the stretch of 2014 Ross finally got healthy. Entering 2015, he’s switched inside to the slot, where coaches expect he will be the perfect complement to Wilson’s considerable abilities on the outside.
Wilson broke it down shortly after sharing his NASCAR-level plans.
“It’s inside-out,” he said. “I’m the first-read, and if I’m not open, it’ll open up the [slot]. If it’s Cover Two, the [slot receiver] should have a good game. If it’s man-to-man, the [outside receiver] should have a good game.”
It seems like a solid plan, assuming each is able to hold up his end of the deal. Nothing is guaranteed, but the available data suggests it’s plenty possible. In their most recent two games (against Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl and at Ole Miss to close out the 2014 regular season), Wilson and Ross combined for 28 catches, 422 yards and four touchdowns.
It may seem unreasonable to expect the pair to average 14 catches, 200-plus yards and two touchdowns per game over the course of a season, but then again, that’s somewhere in the realm of what they’re aiming for. Pressed to put numbers to his goals for 2015, Wilson said he’d like at least 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Lofty, sure, but why play if you’re not confident?
“If you double-team De’Runnya, I feel like I can win on the inside,” Ross said. “If you double-team on the inside, I’ve got all the faith in De’Runnya that he’s going to win 99.9 percent of the time.”
Wilson is the more proven of the two, leading MSU in catches (47), yards (680) and touchdowns (nine) in 2014, despite only playing extensively in about seven games. But Ross was second on the team by a good margin with 489 yards, and his 16.3 yards per catch were actually tops on the team for any receiver with 20-plus catches.
His transition to the slot could change the yards per catch number, but it’s a switch he says he’s comfortable with, especially after playing it some in high school, too. In fact, Chad Bumphis – statistically the best slot receiver in MSU history – has raved about the switch since seeing it up close in spring practices, saying Ross is a natural as a crisp route-runner with strong hands who knows how to use his body to catch passes and create space even when he’s covered.
Ross is a little bigger than the average slot receiver, something he expects to use to his advantage.
“With my versatility, I feel like I can do a lot of things in the slot position,” Ross said. “I feel like I have the tools to succeed at the slot position.”
Co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Billy Gonzales said this is the deepest group of receivers he’s ever worked with in his lengthy and successful career, saying there is much more than just Ross and Wilson. Gonzales’ goal he preaches to the receivers is to have at least five plays per game of 20 yards or more, a reasonable goal given MSU’s success in explosive plays last year.
“If we can continue to do that,” Gonzales said, “we will put points up on the board.”
Gonzales never used the words “NASCAR offense” as Wilson did, but it’s clear listening to him, Dan Mullen and the rest of the offensive staff of coaches and players that expectations of explosion are high.
“Our receivers are very, very talented,” Prescott said. “We have a very talented group that is going to make my job easier.”
To hear them describe it, Wilson, Ross and the gang will take the field as the highly-trained and adrenaline-pumped drivers of wonder speeding by as those around them look on in awe, unable to stop them even if they wanted to.