STARKVILLE — Mississippi State human highlight reel Kylin Hill stepped into MSU’s media room following his team’s 28-13 win over Kentucky beaming with confidence.
He already hurdled — literally — any obstacle the Wildcats’ defense threw at him, so his last responsibility in an action-packed Saturday for the junior standout was going to be a breeze.
There were no signs of wear and tear from a running back who just turned in his third 20-plus carry effort of a season now a third of the way through. Instead, the Columbus native insisted on cracking jokes that his leap to finish a 12-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was more impressive than freshman quarterback Garrett Shrader’s helicopter lunge a week ago against Kansas State.
“I did a little better than Garrett,” Hill said with a laugh.
It’s a bold claim to make, but when you run for 120 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, you pretty much get to say whatever you want. And as long as Hill keeps taking pressure off the true freshman quarterback for as long as regular starter Tommy Stevens is sidelined, Shrader’s fine with it.
“He makes it a lot easier on me,” Shrader said.
Hill ran rampant over the Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday en route to becoming the first MSU running back to run for at least 100 yards in four straight contests since Anthony Dixon in 2009.
A narrative is quickly developing about MSU’s offense: It cannot thrive without Hill.
“He’s very critical,” MSU center Darryl Williams said. “He’s one of the top backs in this league, and we depend on him highly every week.”
At 91 carries through four games, he’s fast approaching his 2018 season total of 117 touches. He’d have 273 carries entering the bowl game if Hill continues at his current pace. And to his credit, he’s shown no signs of slowing down. But he’s not used to this workload, with only one 20-plus-carry game last season. He’s willing to take handoffs whenever his number is called, though.
“It can be eight carries, 20, 30 or 40, whatever I have to do to get the win,” Hill said.
If MSU’s running back situation was in better shape, it’s likely Hill would get some reprieve.
Alas, the Bulldogs’ backfield depth is now razor thin. Hill’s primary backup, Nick Gibson, missed his second straight game due to injury, then third-stringer Lee Witherspoon suffered an injury Saturday and did not return. When Hill needed a break, MSU was forced to play senior receiver Malik Dear in the backfield.
So until further notice, MSU is going to continue to ride Hill early — a strategy that might keep MSU coach Joe Moorhead awake at night.
“We need to put him in a hyperbaric chamber, or whatever that’s called,” Moorhead said.
One caveat should be added to Hill’s standout performance in the season opener: His offensive line manhandled a pretty prestigious Kentucky front seven. Whether they were opening running lanes or keeping Shrader’s jersey clean, the offensive line is going to enjoy watching the film Sunday.
“I give all the credit to them,” Hill said.
With one of the fiercest defensive lines in the nation on the docket next week at Auburn, Hill’s and the offensive line’s production will be more critical than ever.
But if the offense approaches next week like it did in the first half against Kentucky, Hill might just give the Bulldogs a fighting chance at an upset.
“Basically, the offensive line told me they’re going to push, and they’re leaning on me,” he said. “I told them, just block, and I got y’all.”
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.