Watts bringing new offense to Bulldogs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 17, 2003

[7/17/03]Spirits were high at the Mississippi State University Alumni Association banquet at Jacques Cafe Wednesday evening in Vicksburg.

With a new football season looming on the horizon, fans and alumni are quickly looking to forget last year.

Following a disappointing 3-9 season in which the Bulldogs lost all eight Southeastern Conference games, Mississippi State cleaned house and hired five new coaches with the hopes of turning around a program that had great success prior to two seasons ago.

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New offensive coordinator Morris Watts introduced himself to MSU’s Vicksburg alumni, along with running backs coach Glenn Davis, to discuss the progress the team has made since the start of spring practices and to gather support for the program.

Watts, who spent the last four seasons as offensive coordinator for Michigan State after four years at Louisiana State, brings experience to a program that needs a boost on offense.

Despite high preseason expectations, Michigan State’s season collapsed in 2002 with a 4-8 record. The Spartans fired head coach Bobby Williams midseason. Watts took the helm, leading the team to a 1-2 record in the last three games.

In the offseason, Watts found several suitors, and he said he chose Mississippi State because of what he saw in the program’s direction and talent.

Watts has come in with a new system and a new playbook, and the pressure is on the players to learn.

“When you change everything you change terminology, have a few players playing different positions I think our biggest challenge is putting it all together, getting everybody on the same page,” Watts said. “Becoming a team will be our biggest thing to do when we start two-a-days.”

Davis, who has coached the running backs since 1997, was one of four assistant coaches to remain with the Bulldogs from last season.

He said everything has gone very well through the early adjustment periods in the spring.

“The kids seem to be taking well to the new coaches, both offensively and defensively,” Davis said.

The Bulldogs finished 11th in the SEC last season in rushing, but Davis blames injuries and inconsistency in the offensive line for the poor output, not the talent of the backs.

“You can’t ever tell what’s going to happen injury-wise,” Davis said. “You hope you don’t lose your critical guys in critical areas, and we just haven’t had that kind of luck. It comes and goes.”

Watts hopes an improved ground game will team together with the passing attack to help create a balanced offense.

“Our big thing with balance is being able to be as good at one as you are at the other, and then feeding off what the defense does,” he said. “To me the idea of balance is that you’re good enough to win doing either of the two.”

State has depth at both running back and quarterback, with no clear starters emerging from the spring.

At running back, the Bulldogs have three talented backs who may end up sharing carries Darnell Jones, Nick Turner and Fred Reid.

“We’ll use all three,” Davis said. “They’re all pretty talented. In each scrimmage, one guy had a good scrimmage.”

Behind center, senior Kevin Fant dealt with injuries and personal problems which opened the door for sophomore Kyle York. In the fall, Fant will have to win his job back after York impressed coaches with his performances.

Watts is glad that both are willing to accept the challenge, but he said the Bulldogs will shy away from a two-quarterback system.

“You can’t get through an SEC season without having to play more than one quarterback,” he said. “Guys are going to get dinged up and something’s going to happen.”

With college football becoming a year-round event, Watts said it’s important for the players to work on three aspects during the summer: strength and conditioning, physical skills, and knowledge of the game.

And he has been pleased so far by the effort he has seen from all the players on offense this summer.

“We’ve all taken on the responsibility of being a disciplined football program,” Watts said.