It’s early September which means a date with Clanga is around the corner. Things aren’t great in Starkville of late, with the Bulldogs sitting with a 1-1 record and still working some things out. Although, things look promising after a 24-20 victory over South Carolina last week.
Wide Receiver Fred Ross
The senior wideout broke out in 2015, breaking several school records and being named All-SEC. Through two games he leads the team with 11 receptions but just 76 yards to show for it. However, Ross got off to a slow start last year with just 153 yards through his first three games, but had 574 yards in his final five games.
What could cause problems
As his reception records from last year indicate, the Bulldogs like to get Ross the ball. He primarily lined up as the team’s most inside slot receiver. He will rush the ball at times, on options and end arounds. Against South Carolina, Ross even threw for a touchdown.
Against LSU last year he was essentially the safety valve. Most of his catches came on shallow, underneath routes. Ross looked pretty competent at absorbing contact from linebackers along with just enough quickness to separate and pick up the yardage needed.
His performance against Arkansas and Missouri, which take place later in the season, tell a bit of a different story. Ross was targeted much more vertically and seemed to develop a new found quickness which he used to shred both defenses.
Not surprisingly, Ross’s best skills as a receiver are his receiving skills. While his 6’2” frame doesn’t match up with the graduated De'runnya Wilson’s 6’5”, Ross certainly has a good height advantage and presents a big target. He does a good job at adjusting to the ball in flight and has the ability to perform some spectacular catches.
What can be exploited and how
The departure of Dak Prescott probably puts some reserve in the Bulldogs offense when it comes to throwing the ball. Ross’s high reception totals yet relatively low output suggests he is getting touches but not for big plays. Getting back to the LSU game, when Ross did go deep, the coverage was outstanding and he was not nearly as effective as he was underneath. Aside from LSU’s coverage skills, Ross’s lack of success in the deeper part of the field might come from the fact he isn’t a burner, although he can break off some good runs if defenders can’t tackle well. Kevin Toliver seemed to take on Ross for a few of those deep routes last year and did a pretty good job, so a similar strategy should be in place for Saturday.
Defensive End AJ Jefferson
2015 was also a career year for Jefferson. He would lead the team in tackles with 13.5 and finish second in sacks with five. Statistically, Jefferson is one of the Bulldogs best defenders with six tackles for loss, two sacks and two quarterback hits through the first two games of the season.
What he does well
As one might expect with an experienced fifth year senior, Jefferson is a smart defender. He does a good job at managing the edge, knowing where to be and how to position himself to maximize the play strength. His headiness was in prime form last year on a double-reverse against LSU. Below you see Jefferson has the alertness to not bite on the fake and although he doesn’t have the speed advantage against Dural, he kept himself in a good position to make a play.
He looks like a solid pass rusher who can generate some speed to power while being fast enough to get around offensive lineman or put them out of position and then counter. Jefferson gets off the snap pretty well and has good stamina to run out the play for the most part. He looks pretty light on his feet and can reposition himself fairly quickly to get past the block or tackle the ball carrier.
What can be exploited and how
Although Jefferson is credited with a career best eight tackles against LSU last year, the Tiger line did a solid job at getting Jefferson out of the play. It was mostly Jefferson one-on-one against Jerald Hawkins, but he was occasionally the target of some double teams with Collin Jeter or Dillon Gordon helping out. At the same time, as a competent edge defender, Jefferson isn’t going to keep himself in the play.
If he is used anything like he was last year, LSU’s tackles will probably spend most of the game against Jefferson with a back or tight end helping out on occasion.