STARKVILLE — Everything that happened since the minute Joe Morrow arrived at Mississippi State University is about lowering the expectations.
After signing with MSU as apart of the 2011 recruiting class, Morrow became the only scholarship wide receiver taller than 6-foot-3 and the thoughts of how he’d be used in the Bulldogs offense under head coach Dan Mullen were endless.
The result was he simply wasn’t used. Morrow, a four-star receiver from Ocean Springs spent the 2011 season inactive as a redshirt player in order for the highly-touted pass catcher to learn the playbook and everything else it took to become a college football player.
“If you had five years of eligibility then Joe would’ve played in about week eight of last year,” Mullen said. “You don’t want use a kid’s year that late in the season. I think we expect a lot of big things out of him and I think he knows that. He wants to play.”
During spring workouts months ago, Morrow was having a joke played on him by his quarterback Tyler Russell. Russell admitted to reporters that he had the name on his practice jersey intentionally spelled “Marrow” just to remind him he hadn’t arrived just yet.
The debate still became not when but if Morrow would make an impact on this MSU offense. The first moment came in the 2012 Maroon-White spring game at Davis Wade Stadium as Morrow ended the evening with 97 yards receiving on six catches and one touchdown.
It was his first game in a MSU jersey and couldn’t have been more perfect. Except to MSU coaches because on that night it became a near impossibility to hide his potential from fans.
“I thought he did some good things but obviously still has some things he needs to clean up,” Mullen said after the game. “He has to be more consistent but if he gets the drops out of his system then he’s good to go.”
Clearly It hasn’t stopped the Bulldogs staff from trying to do just that — protect Morrow from expanding expectations for a player with zero career catches for no yards and zero touchdowns in not a single game played.
“The thing about Joe is he’s been really, really good or really, really bad,” MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “He needs to get that consistency, that’s all he needs to do.”
Coming into the 2012 season, Morrow is still listed as a backup in the preseason depth chart to senior Arceto Clark but even the players on the roster know the talent they’ve been watching in practice.
“We haven’t had a big receiver like that since I’ve been here,” Clark, who stands 5-foot-10, said. “We got somebody to get jump balls.”
Chris Smith, who stands 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, said he realized right away that Morrow would be a force at his position.
“I would sit and talk with Arceto about Joe and RoJo [Robert Johnson] and I always said Joe (Morrow) is going to pretty (good),” Smith said. “We need somebody to come through when we’re all not here.”
The coaching staff also knows what they saw in a loss at Davis Wade Stadium last season. In a 14-12 defeat to the University of South Carolina, the game-winning play was a jump ball pass from Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery, who was drafted this April by the Chicago Bears of the National Football League, stood at least seven inches taller than MSU cornerback Corey Broomfield and as soon as the ball was in the air, the likelihood of who would come down with the ball was pretty certain.
“When we go recruit talent, the ability to make plays is something you just can’t teach,” Koenning said. “We can teach you how to get there and put you in the right spot to make that play but in that moment, you have to go grab that play. That’s when players are special.”
Morrow, who some of the players in the locker room have dubbed “Joe Cool” because of his inner confidence and swagger on and off the field, says he knows he’ll get his opportunity in 2012 to make those types of plays but isn’t nervous about the anticipation of making his MSU debut.
“Coach Mullen knows who he’s gonna put out there and who’s he not going to put out there,” Morrow said. “The way it is in my mind, when you can play, you can play. But if you can’t, you can’t. So I just go hard every time.”
So while fans still wonder when will this highly-acclaimed and perceived difference maker out of high school will make a big play on the field, it is Morrow who will decide when his moment will occur and not anybody else.
“Joe is learning,” Koenning said. “When he is in the right spot he makes the good catches and he makes plays. That’s the learning process for him. And I think he’ll tell us when he’s ready to play.”
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