By JOEL COLEMAN
Through five games and 33 catches, Mississippi State wide receiver Fred Ross hadn’t been able to find the end zone this season. It took him just 36 seconds to change all that on Saturday.
On Mississippi State’s second play from scrimmage in the Bulldogs’ 45-17 win over Troy, quarterback Dak Prescott hit Ross for a 59-yard scoring strike, MSU’s fastest touchdown in a game in 15 years. Finally, Ross was in the end zone and able to silence the ribbing from a fellow wide receiver.
“Gabe Myles joked with me all this week saying ‘you haven’t scored yet’,” Ross said. “I was like ‘I remember last year when you hadn’t scored around this time.’ He was just messing with me, telling me I had to get in the end zone and it finally happened and I’m thankful for it.”
The score wasn’t all that simple. On the play, the athleticism of Ross showed as he caught the short pass and busted through the Troy defense before scampering all the way past the goal line.
“I am just trying to do whatever it takes to put my team in the best situation,” Ross said. “Dak did a good job on that play carrying out the fake and getting the defense off of him. (De’Runnya Wilson) also did a great job on the perimeter block, which made my job easy. All I had to do was catch it and score.”
Scoring was so nice, Ross decided to do it twice. Later in the first quarter with Mississippi State already up 14-0, the Bulldogs forced Troy to punt. As the returner, Ross caught the ball at his own 23 yard line and took it 77 yards for a touchdown.
The punt return for a score was MSU’s first such play since Johnthan Banks accomplished the feat on Nov. 5, 2011 against UT Martin.
When asked which of Saturday’s scores he enjoyed the most, Ross didn’t hesitate.
“I kind of liked the punt,” Ross said with a smile. “It was especially a big deal there. It was just a big motivation boost for me.
“I got the ball and I saw Jamoral (Graham). He came around the corner and he was like ‘follow me.’ He made a good block to spring me. Really, (the return) was caused by the blocking. I broke a tackle and that was all I had to do.”
Ross said Saturday marked the first time that he’s ever had both a receiving touchdown and punt return touchdown in the same game.
The feeling was a far cry from what Ross experienced in Hattiesburg when the Bulldogs opened the season at Southern Mississippi. In that game, Ross muffed a bouncing punt that allowed Southern Miss to regain possession. Despite the early misfortune this year, Ross says he’s been comfortable returning punts all season.
“I had one bad bounce and I guess it supposedly ruined my confidence,” Ross said. “But I never lost confidence in myself. I know what I can do as a football player. Getting that first punt return (for a touchdown) meant a lot to me.”
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen is pleased with the overall play of Ross this season. For the year, Ross now leads the Bulldogs with a team-high of 35 catches and 386 yards.
“I’ve always said he’s a great player and this year he’s made some great plays catching the ball down the field,” Mullen said. “He always does a great job in the open field with the ball in his hands. He gives us that balance. You want to have playmakers out there on the field and he’s certainly one. He can beat you in his route running but he can also catch it and beat you in the run as well. I’m pleased with his development.”