Mike Leach: Mississippi State football must ‘get tougher at receiver’ ahead of the 2022 season

STARKVILLE — The football fell to the grass as Mississippi State safety Jalen Green came up to deliver a big hit on wide receiver Austin Williams during Saturday’s scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium.

Perhaps moments like that were enough for Bulldogs coach Mike Leach to notice a potential area for improvement.

“I think we’ve got to get tougher at receiver,” Leach said after MSU’s first preseason scrimmage. “I think those receivers spend a certain amount of the time being awfully willing to be shoved around.”

With less than three weeks remaining until the Bulldogs open the 2022 season against Memphis on Sept. 3, that will have to change.

Particularly in an offense where passing is the name of the game, Mississippi State must improve its physicality and its overall play out wide.

The Bulldogs lost only two main receivers from last season — Makai Polk, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens; and Malik Heath, who transferred to Ole Miss.

Everyone else is back, including Williams and junior Jaden Walley on the inside. Walley had a touchdown catch from redshirt freshman Sawyer Robertson during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Washington State transfer Jamire Calvin had an ugly drop during the afternoon but caught two passes for 22 yards. Northwestern transfer Jordan Mosley had two catches for 12 yards.

At outside receiver, the competition is more interesting. Leach said junior Lideatrick “Tulu” Griffin, sophomore Rara Thomas and Georgia transfer Justin Robinson are all neck and neck for one starting spot.

“Right now, I see a three-horse race over there at that position,” Leach said. I don’t have one ahead of the next.

“I don’t know that there’s a difference between them. At some point, they’ve got to separate themselves. The guy who separates himself will play the most.”

That could be Thomas, who broke out as a freshman with five touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ final five games.

Leach called the Alabama native “average” on the first day of camp Aug. 5, hoping for more consistency from Thomas. More than a week later, the MSU coach isn’t satisfied.

“He’s got to get consistent,” Leach repeated.

Robinson is dealing with the same thing — at this point, most of the Bulldogs are — but he showed plenty of promise Saturday.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver totaled 54 yards on four receptions, catching the eye of his coaches.

“I thought he took a step today,” Leach said. “I thought he improved. When he plays hard, he’s a tough player. He’s just kind of got to refine his technique, but he is starting to kind of make some improvements.”

Robinson’s physique could make him a solution to the physicality problem Leach sees with his wideouts.

But until the rest of the Bulldogs follow, Leach might have the same complaints.

“We just have to answer the challenge at receiver,” he said.

Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.

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