STARKVILLE • Mississippi State running backs have been making their own comparisons during fall camp.
Nick Gibson referred to himself and Kylin Hill as a tailback tandem like former USC greats Reggie Bush and LenDale White, while Hill called freshman Lee Witherspoon a young version of Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb.
“It’s okay to have expectations but if you’re going to talk about it, you’d better be about it,” said MSU running backs coach Terry Richardson. “You’d better live up to it. They can say what they want to say but I’m telling these guys that they’ve got 60 minutes during the game to get it done. You can be whoever you want to be – it doesn’t matter to me – as long as we get the job done.”
Head coach Joe Moorhead intends to cut down on the number of carries his quarterbacks get this season and transfer those to his tailbacks. Nick Fitzgerald was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 221 carries for 1,121 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018, 104 more attempts than Hill or any other ball carrier had.
“This is the SEC West and it’s a physical game so obviously you need two or three guys to get it done,” Richardson said. “There’s no set plan but obviously (Hill) is the lead dog and he’ll get the football.”
Hill, now a junior, rushed for 734 yards and four touchdowns last season and was the team’s second-leading receiver with 22 catches for 176 yards and four more scores despite missing two games with a hamstring injury.
“I’m being more patient in the hole and finding gaps,” Hill said. “Last year I was more excited and when I’d see a hole, I’d take it. Now I’ll just wait it out because I know defensive formations. I know everything that’s going on.”
Gibson will spell Hill in the backfield this season following the graduation of Aeris Williams. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior averaged 7.6 yards per carry in limited action last season and has 501 career rushing yards.
“Nick is a dog, man,” Richardson said. “He’s a hit it and get it kind of guy. That’s his game.”
With former Michigan running back Kareem Walker yet to enroll, MSU has Witherspoon taking third-team reps. Witherspoon broke the Alabama high school single-season records for rushing touchdowns (53) and total TDs (59) last fall.
“He’s a hard worker and a tough kid,” Richardson said. “He’s talented obviously. You don’t run for all those yards he ran for if you don’t have any talent.
“Right now, he’s a pleasure to have in the room. He’s doing everything that’s being asked of him.”
Alec Murphy returned to the backfield after playing linebacker for a year. The senior has only had two career carries but has appeared in 19 games, mostly on special teams.