STARKVILLE — There’s not much time left in the 2022 football season for a No. 1 wide receiver to clearly emerge at Mississippi State.
Don’t tell Mike Leach that.
Leach reiterated his desire for a clear-cut top option at wideout even as MSU (6-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) plays its penultimate regular-season game at 11 a.m. Saturday against East Tennessee State (3-7, 1-7 Southern Conference.)
“We still have the call out for … receivers who really want the ball,” Leach said.
Asked during Monday’s press conference about the best receivers he’s ever coached, Leach went into considerable detail about several, including former Texas Tech wideouts Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola.
Leach made it clear — again — that none of Mississippi State’s receivers are anywhere near that level.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of them that are cluttered together there,” he said. “If these guys would separate themselves, we’d throw it to the guy who separates himself.”
Sophomore Rara Thomas leads the pack with 563 receiving yards this season, but five Bulldogs have between 234 and 420 yards.
On Saturday against Georgia, no MSU player had more than Rufus Harvey’s 64 yards. Harvey surpassed Caleb Ducking for second on the team but has little time to zoom past Thomas and nab the top spot for himself.
Unless Thomas — held to two catches for 24 yards Saturday — strings together a few big games, Mississippi State’s receiving corps won’t satisfy its head coach’s demand.
“Right now, we’ve got a group of nice guys who like each other, like the ball, like the team, like the social activities that go along with it,” Leach said. “We want somebody who really wants the ball for the sake of having the ball because they believe they’re better with it than the other guy in the seat next to them.”
Having a breakout receiver over the final two games — including a Thanksgiving night matchup with Ole Miss — could help the Bulldogs get into an offensive rhythm before the season ends.
Mississippi State has struggled to score for nearly a month, having been held to 17 points at Kentucky, scoring to break up a shutout as time expired against Alabama, going cold for a long stretch against Auburn and scoring just 12 offensive points against Georgia.
Asked what he and his coaches could do to spark the Bulldogs’ offense from the sideline, Leach made his point about receivers and referenced the quality of MSU’s foes instead.
“Well, we’ve played some really good opponents,” he said. “I think that makes it challenging.”
A struggling East Tennessee State team should provide some respite for the Bulldogs.
ETSU is coming off a 20-17 home loss to Western Carolina and has lost four straight games.
Just one year after taking down Vanderbilt 23-3 en route to an 11-2 season, the Buccaneers are near the bottom of the SoCon. That doesn’t mean Leach will take them lightly, though.
“All teams are dealing with something and battling something, but they’re excited to go out there and compete, kind of like we are,” Leach said.
Forbes named MSU’s Conerly nominee
Cornerback Emmanuel Forbes is Mississippi State’s nominee for this year’s C Spire Conerly Trophy, which honors the best college football player in the Magnolia State.
Forbes was announced Monday as one of 10 nominees for the award. Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins, Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders and Southern Miss wide receiver Jason Brownlee — a West Point High School product — were among the others.
Forbes’ five interceptions are tied for the second-most in FBS.
The Conerly winner will be announced during a Nov. 29 presentation at the Country Club of Jackson.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral won last year’s award.