STARKVILLE — The line of scrimmage success Mississippi State enjoyed this football season was a cover for what could have lied ahead.
The defensive line led what may be the nation’s best defense and the offensive line led a rushing attack that was top 10 nationally on a yards per carry basis, but the personnel numbers behind them did not guarantee that trend continuing. Thus, Joe Moorhead and his coaching staff went about solving a numbers problem with its class of 2019 recruiting efforts.
It made a big jump in that direction Wednesday and is well-poised to finish the job in February.
On the first day of college football’s early signing period, MSU signed 14 players: four of them were offensive linemen and three were defensive linemen. It got Moorhead’s first true signing class as the Bulldogs’ coach off to a strong start at two position groups he believes to be the most important.
“First and foremost, philosophically, it is a line of scrimmage football league,” Moorhead said of the Southeastern Conference. “The mentality of great teams and championship teams are dictated by the offensive and defensive lines. If you can’t run the ball, if you can’t stop the run, if you can’t protect the passer and if you can’t rush the passer in this league, it’s going to be a long day at the office. Any time we get an opportunity to recruit the big guys, they make all the difference in the game. That’s the primary area of focus.
“Secondly, from a pure numbers perspective and needs, for a few classes here we haven’t signed many offensive linemen that made it to campus.”
A few recent defections combined with recent junior college recruitment did leave MSU with little in terms of underclassmen offensive linemen.
In the five signing classes prior to this one, MSU signed 19 offensive linemen; three of them never made it to campus. 2017 signee Montravious Richardson maintained his MSU commitment as he went from Mississippi Delta Community College now to Georgia Military College and classmate Josh Cooper ended up at Navarro College; 2014 signee Jordan Harris went to Pearl River Community College and never returned to MSU signee list.
Meanwhile, of the 16 that did sign, four of them were junior college players, including two of the three in the 2017 class.
MSU filled that gap Wednesday with three high school signings on the offensive line. The in-state signing was the highest ranked: Charles Cross, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Laurel product that was a four-star on the 247 Sports Composite and a former Florida State commit.
“We’ve been recruiting Charles for a little more time because he’s in-state and we’ve known about him for a long time,” Moorhead said. “We just continued to stay in contact with him, he made his decision to reopen his recruitment and we didn’t have to change anything from what we had been doing the entire time. We just had the opportunity to get him up on campus, get him on an official visit and what we had to offer matched his criteria.”
MSU also got Brevyn Jones (6-foot-3, 261 pounds) out of Birmingham and Nick Pendley (6-foot-4, 280 pounds) from Canton, Georgia. The other offensive line signee is a former Columbus High School Falcon and East Mississippi Community College Lion: LaQuinston Sharp, who will reunite with former teammate Kylin Hill at MSU.
The Bulldogs still have three offensive linemen committed that did not sign and can sign on Feb. 6, giving MSU work left to do at the position. The work left to do on the other side of the line is more important.
The Bulldogs secured three defensive linemen — Provine High School’s De’Monte Russell, Oak Grove High School’s Jack Harris and Ani Izuchukwu from Hendersonville, Tennessee — but the primary prizes are left on the table.
According to 247 Sports’ ratings, two of the best three prospects are in-state defensive linemen that opted to wait and sign in February: Nathan Pickering of Seminary (6-foot-3, 286 pounds) and Charles Moore of Louisville (6-foot-4, 268 pounds). Both are four-star prospects.
“We’re looking to continue there,” Moorhead said. “We’ve got a number of guys committed that are waiting until February to sign and we feel comfortable with where we are.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson