STARKVILLE – It will go down in the record books as Mississippi State 38, Southern Miss 15. It will go down in this writer’s memory as The Kylin Hill Show.
Hill, the Bulldogs’ so-talented, so-driven running back rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries and caught two passes for 19 more yards – but those numbers don’t tell the story.
Hill did what he did with remarkable versatility and panache. He juked. He bull-dozed. He sped. He powered. He spun. He leaped. He stutter-stepped. He hurdled.
Much of this he did after suffering what first appeared to be a serious ankle injury at the end of the first half. State led 14-0 and was driving toward another score. The home crowd was festive – or at least as festive as a crowd can be in relentlessly stifling 96-degree heat. And then USM’s Jacques Turner and Santrell Latham stopped Hill for no gain. The two Golden Eagles got up. Hill did not.
The Bulldog fans, who had much enjoyed Hill’s remarkable running to that point, became suddenly quiet. State took a timeout. Already, starting quarterback Tommy Stevens had gone to the locker room with what appeared to be an injury to his throwing shoulder after two straight USM sacks.
To their credit, the Bulldogs, with back-up quarterback Garrett Shrader, a poised true freshman, leading the way, went right on in and scored for a 21-0 halftime lead. The announcement was made at halftime that Stevens would not return and that Hill’s return was doubtful.
Any doubt was removed when Hill took the field on State’s first possession of the second half and ran for five yards on the first play. But it was on the Bulldogs’ next possession Hill really showed out. He took a handoff from Shrader and ran to his left, where he ran into the grasp of USM defenders. He broke away and broke back to the right, speeding down the field. When an Eagle defensive back dove at him, Hill hurdled him before finally being stopped for a 22-yard gain. It was the second time Hill had hurdled a would-be Eagle tackler. It was, in a word, breathtaking to watch.
“The guy was right in front of me. I saw his eyes looking down and knew he was going to go low,” Hill said. “So, I just jumped over him.”
“No,” Hill said, he didn’t know who the defender was. “But when I walked by him he said, ‘Why you got to do us that way?’”
“I told him I got to do what I got to do to get to the league.”
Hill is well on his way. Through two games of his junior season, he has run for 320 yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries.
Said Joe Moorhead, “Kylin has a small back’s skills in a big back’s body.”
Asked to compare Hill with other backs he had coached and seen, Moorhead began by saying, “It’s probably not fair to compare him to the last back I coached.”
That would be former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who ran for nearly 4,000 yards in three Nittany Lions seasons in Moorhead’s offense, and gained more than 1,300 yards as a New York Giants rookie last season.
Well, let the comparisons begin. I’ll start. Barkley is listed 15-20 pounds bigger than Hill’s 215 pounds, but both run hard and fast, and both can catch the ball out of the backfield. Both have scat-back moves in the open field. And both can push the pile.
Moorhead called Hill “one of the best backs in our conference and the country.”
“The play can be blocked well enough for a one-yard gain and you look up and Kylin’s got four or five,” Moorhead said. “He makes people miss in the open field…. The sky’s the limit for Kylin.”
Moorhead will get no argument from his USM counterpart, Jay Hopson.
“I knew Kylin was good in high school,” Hopson said. “A couple times today we had him in the backfield and he just willed it forward and got the first down. I certainly grabbed his neck before I got off the field. I thought he played a whale of a game. He ran the ball physically. We had opportunities to wrap him up but give the young man credit.”
While Hill’s hurdling is breathtaking to watch, it surely must make State coaches (and medics) hold their breath. Surely, it increases the risk of injury. After all, what goes up that high, must come down – sometimes really hard.
“I can’t worry about that,” Hill said. “It’s football. Injuries are part of the game. I just do what comes natural.”
As for the hurdling – “I watch Saquon (Barkley, that guy again) do it all the time. He’s the best back in the league.”
Hill out-rushed USM himself, 125 to 110. Otherwise, the statistics were amazingly close for a 23-point game. State led in first downs 21-17 and in total yardage 386-344. But USM turned the ball over three times and State not once.
The Bulldogs were more efficient and made the most big plays – even after losing their starting quarterback. Stevens had been especially sharp early, hitting his first nine passes and throwing for two touchdowns before grabbing his shoulder after a second straight sack by USM cornerback Ty Williams.
Moorhead said Stevens will be evaluated Sunday but hopes he will be back, sooner rather than later.
Honestly, there didn’t seem much drop-off from Stevens to Shrader, who completed seven of 11 throws for 71 yards.
When he had time, Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham was outstanding, too. He made some big-time throws. A back such as Kylin Hill would have made his job much easier. But USM doesn’t have one.
Not many teams do.