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Talented WR Wilson becoming factor for No. 20 Mississippi St

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State’s De’Runnya Wilson certainly looks like an elite Southeastern Conference receiver: 6-foot-5, 215-pounds, huge hands and plenty of speed.

But for much of the first half of the season, the junior was an afterthought in the Bulldogs’ offense, even as the team’s passing game flourished.

De'Runnya Wilson

De’Runnya Wilson

He’s picked up the production over his past two games, though, and figures to be very important for No. 20 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2 SEC) when it hosts No. 3 Alabama (8-1, 5-1) on Saturday.

Wilson had one of his best games of the season last week in a 31-13 win over Missouri, catching four passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns despite rainy conditions that usually put a damper on the passing game.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said he didn’t expect Wilson to be a big factor in the game because of the weather and Missouri’s defensive tendencies. But when the Tigers pulled some unexpected moves early, Mullen changed course and called Wilson’s number.

He didn’t disappoint.

“For a guy like Wilson who wasn’t expecting to be a major factor, but ended up being one, it gave him confidence,” Mullen said.

That’s good timing for the Bulldogs, who need Wilson to create some matchup problems against Alabama’s talented defense, which is giving up just 16.3 points per game. Wilson ranks fourth in the SEC with 626 yards receiving and second with eight touchdowns.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wilson was “difficult to cover because of the mismatch he creates using his body and his size to help himself, and he has really good hands.”

Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland said the presence of Wilson and quarterback Dak Prescott – who is third in the league with 2,351 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and just one interception – is a major concern for the Tide defense.

“Any time you’ve got a quarterback like (Prescott) and you’ve got guys like Wilson who can go up and get it at any time they need a big play, you’ve got to do your job,” Ragland said.

Wilson’s talent was obvious last season when he led the Bulldogs with 47 catches for 680 yards. But after surprising some teams last year, opposing defenses are now almost always aware of him.

That led to some quiet games in September and October while other receivers flourished – Fred Ross currently leads the Bulldogs with 51 catches.

Ross has been so effective that opponents have started to pay more attention to him. That’s helped open up some room for Wilson that wasn’t necessarily there at the beginning of the season and re-established him as one of the best playmakers in the league.

Ross said the two will have to play well to snap Mississippi State’s seven-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide.

“We’re going to have to make plays we’re not necessarily supposed to make,” Ross said. “Somebody’s going to have to make a catch in tight coverage or somebody’s going to have jump over the top of a defender and make a play.”

By DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer