Mississippi State football excited to be back, but work for Bulldogs just beginning

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football’s opening day of fall camp ended just in time on Friday before a classic Mississippi summer thunderstorm rolled into town.
Good thing, too, because first-year head coach Zach Arnett said his team needs every second of available practice time ahead of its 2023 season opener, at home against Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 2, to get better.
“You think you made a lot of gains because of the walk-throughs they have allowed now,” Arnett said in his first media appearance since July’s SEC Media Days in Nashville. “You are never as far along as you want to be. It is good to be out there and start pushing football again. The season is right around the corner and we got a long way to go.”
Arnett referred to MSU’s first practice as a “climatization period”, where the coaching staff is getting the Bulldogs ready for more game-like practices. Because of that, Arnett’s takeaways after his team’s first session were few and far between.
“This is not football,” Arnett said. “Report day (which was Thursday for MSU), all you do is talk. The head coach gives a speech, both coordinators give a speech. It’s all just a bunch of empty words. The first two days (of practice) are kind of the same thing. You are going over assignments and fundamentals…Nothing excites me about anything we do until we actually start seeing guys play actual football.”
Still, Friday was another chance, specifically for MSU’s offensive units, to continue to acclimate to first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay’s scheme and tendencies.
Though Arnett recognizes it is still early, he hopes to start seeing some quick improvement, not just from MSU’s offense, but from each unit, leading into next month’s home opener.
“Coming off the field, not having the benefit of watching film, I think we have a general understanding of the schemes, inside and outside zones, play actions off of it, properly targeting looks the defense gives, and how that affects technique,” Arnett said. “We would like to be further along with that. Some of that is what we do defensively, changing some things, some looks. It is a good thing they don’t limit your hours in training camp. We need every second of it.”
Returning to South Farm
For the first time since the Dan Mullen-era, the Bulldogs are set to return to the South Farm for two practices, Aug. 9 and 14, according to a team spokesman. South Farm, a 1,000-acre agricultural facility operated by the university, provides none of the modern conveniences of the Bulldogs’ on-campus practice facilities, a fact the coach readily acknowledges.
Arnett referred to these practices as crucial sessions for the Bulldogs to build up toughness, heading into the season opener.
“I had an opportunity to talk with a lot of former players the last eight months,” Arnett said. “When you hear them talk about what they remember most, they never talk about the easy days. You always remember the grueling camp days that you had to get through. That is how you forge and mold the team. South Farm has been a big part of that here in the history of this school and I think it is right of passage.”
Potential starters ?
When MSU lined up for 11-on-11 drills, its first-team offense line up with Will Rogers (QB), Jo’Quavious Marks (RB), Geo’quarious Spivey (TE), Lideatrick Griffin (WR), Justin Robinson (WR), Zavion Thomas (WR), Nick Jones (OL), Kameron Jones (OL), Kwatrivous Johnson (OL), Cole Smith (OL) and Steven Losoya III (OL)
MSU’s Defense lined up with: Esais Furdge (CB), Decamerion Richardson (CB), Shawn Preston Jr. (S), Corey Ellington (S), Nathaniel Watson (LB), John Lewis (LB), Jett Johnson (LB), Marcus Banks (CB), De’Monte Russell (DL), Nathan Pickering (DL) and Jaden Crumedy (DL),
Day One standouts
In the 20 minutes that media observed at the end of practice, the Bulldogs worked through 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills with a handful of players standing.
The winner of Friday’s practice was cornerback DeCarlos Nicholson. Nicholson, a senior, tallied a pass break-up early in the viewing session, then nearly came up with an interception later in practice.
Considering the open competition in MSU’s secondary, Arnett liked what he saw from him.
“The reason we recruited him, why he was so highly recruited out of junior college, for a cornerback to have his speed and length, that should help you in coverage,” Arnett said. “There is a lot more to playing corner than just covering guys on deep balls. You have to be able to cloud up, physical in the run game. He’s got all of the ability.”
Freshman safety Isaac Smith also made a noteworthy play, breaking up a deep pass from Mike Wright in 7-on-7 action.
Offensively, Spivey was the star of practice, displaying good connection and trust with MSU quarterback Will Rogers, who found Spivey for multiple completions.
Robinson came up with the catch of the day on a long ball down the sideline from Rogers.
Other notable standouts include: Zavion Thomas and Keyvone Lee, who each came up with a couple completions in drills, as well as freshman wideout Creed Whittemore, who was targeted multiple times.
Defensively, Pickering made his presence known on the defensive line, while Ellington broke up a pass with some contact on one play.

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