JaVonta Payton

Mississippi State wide receiver JaVonta Payton says the Bulldogs must properly adapt to the eight-man zone defenses they’re seeing.

STARKVILLE Mississippi State’s offense has sputtered early this season, but the receivers are hoping to help it break through this weekend.

Mississippi State (1-2) hosts No. 11-ranked Texas A&M (2-1) on Saturday at 3 p.m. on ESPN.

The MSU offense opened up the season by scoring 44 points against LSU, but has only scored two touchdowns since in a 21-14 loss to Arkansas and a 24-2 loss to Kentucky.

Quarterback KJ Costello has thrown only one touchdown pass and seven interceptions in the last two weeks. Both Kentucky and Arkansas dropped eight defenders into zone coverage while only rushing three, and it’s caused MSU fits.

Receiver JaVonta Payton said there’s been a focus on perfecting routes across the receiving corps to help open up windows for Costello to throw into.

“Honestly, with this offense we have, it’s major important,” Payton said. “My route sets up a route for someone else and their routes set up a route for me. It’s just about all of us doing our job because it’s about spacing. Spacing is how you get people open.”

Receivers coach Dave Nichol met with the media on Wednesday, and he said the spacing is a big part of the zone defense. Some of Mississippi State’s routes are exact routes, while some aren’t on any given play.

On some of the exact routes, if ran correctly, the receiver can pull up to two defenders with him. That will open up other receivers on their routes and make life easier on the quarterback.

Looking back at the scores and the film, Nichol said spacing and route running has been an issue the last two weeks. He said the receivers are getting more familiar with the routes and the offense that forces players to sit in zones and read coverages more now.

‘Nothing complicated’

“It’s nothing complicated,” Payton said of sitting in zones. “We just all have to go out there and execute. Like coach Leach said, our offense works, we just all have to execute.”

Texas A&M is coming off a big win over then No. 4-ranked Florida, 41-38. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask and his receivers were able to pass for 312 yards and four touchdowns on the Aggie defense.

The Aggies’ defense is allowing 299 passing yards per game, but that has come against Florida and No. 2-ranked Alabama in week two. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones passed for 435 yards and four touchdowns in the blowout win.

The ability to throw on Texas A&M’s secondary is there, but MSU must figure out how to attack the zone defense it has struggled with the last two weeks.

Nichol said the thing that stands out about the secondary is that they play hard and extremely aggressive, which means they are a confident bunch.

“Just watching tape of them moving around, they should be confident,” Nichol said. “That’s probably the thing that’s jumped off the most. They get lined up pretty good. A lot of teams can get all messed up at certain times. They seem to be pretty comfortable with what their scheme calls for them to do.”

dalton.middleton@journalinc.com

Twitter: @DLMiddleton8

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