STARKVILLE — The film from the 2017 season granted to the new Mississippi State football coaching staff gave it nothing on wide receiver Austin Williams. The freshman from Ocean Springs redshirted last season, and yet his reputation preceded him.
“You’ve heard about his athleticism, you’ve heard about his speed and he’s come out and done a really good job,” MSU coach Joe Moorhead said.
Williams left Saturday’s Maroon & White Game as the leading receiver, catching five passes for 86 yards and consistently gashing the defense, with three of his catches going for at least 20 yards. The shortest catch he tallied as a two-yard reception — that scored a touchdown.
“Austin’s a guy that can win in 1-on-1 coverage, he does it all the time,” quarterback Keytaon Thompson said.
Williams was a sought-after prospect coming out of high school, at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and rated as one of the top 15 prospects in the state but did not crack the rotation as a freshman. Moorhead sees a perfect way to use him.
“Our slots in this system have always had a lot of success, DaeSean Hamilton at Penn State and guys before that at Fordham,” Moorhead said. Hamilton caught 53 passes for 857 yards, 16.2 yards per catch, and tied for the team lead with nine touchdowns last season. “He’s savvy, he’s a good route-runner, he understands coverages and he’s got great measurables. He’s a big kid, he runs fast and he can get out of cuts well. It gives you a recipe for success at the receiver position and he had a great spring.”
Williams is not taking the fit for granted.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to fit in,” he said.
Murphy makes his mark
West Point native Marcus Murphy thrust himself into the story of the game, his first as a Bulldog, with an interception, one of two against Thompson. He also had two tackles and a pass breakup.
Murphy was aptly listed as a positionless athlete by many recruiting services and MSU has treated him as such, initially trying him at safety but also teaching him cornerback and punt returner. The experimentation is expected to continue when fall camp starts.
Attendance record goes down
Moorhead was vocal about his challenge for the fans. He viewed part of his vision for the program’s rise from good to great as breaking its previous records, and that began with the spring game attendance record. On Saturday, the 36,789 people in Davis Wade Stadium did it.
“First and foremost, it was a great turnout and I want to thank the fans,” Moorhead said. “We issued a challenge to take this from good to great, break the record and they came out, even with the baseball game time change. That was awesome.”
The running back workload was spread evenly: Kylin Hill ran nine times, Nick Gibson eight, Aeris Williams six and Dontavian Lee six. Gibson led them all with 74 yards, most of it coming on a 51-yard touchdown run. Hill ran for 50 yards, Williams for 35 and Lee for 26.
Hill also had three catches for 29 yards. Tight end Justin Johnson caught four passes for 50 yards and tight end Dontea Jones joined him with three catches for 26 yards.
Leading the wide receivers: freshman Devonta “Whop” Jason with three catches for 56 yards.
Defensive end Marquiss Spencer and linebacker Willie Gay led the Maroon defense with four tackles each. Spencer also had 2.5 tackles for a loss and a sack; defensive ends Gerri Green and Chauncey Rivers each had a sack and Montez Sweat had two.
Team captains set
After the scrimmage, Moorhead revealed the team has voted quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and defensive end Gerri Green as its captains. Both of them will be seniors in the fall and are projected to start at their respective positions.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson