Bulldog Blockers Getting Back On '10 Track

They aren't strutting again just yet. But the Bulldog offensive line is certainly standing a little taller this week after a solid SEC showing. "We did what we said we would do all summer," center J.C. Brignone said. "We came out the Georgia game and ran the ball, just played football."

Good football, too. Mississippi State pounded the ground for a SEC season-high 166 yards and did not allow a sack of quarterback Chris Relf in the 24-12 victory. Coming after a couple of struggling showings this was exactly what the Bulldog blockers needed…and precisely what they'd expected of themselves coming into the season.

"I think we just had to get our confidence back," Brignone said. "We lost a lot confidence in that Auburn game and it just rolled over to the LSU game. We lost that swagger we had in the Memphis game." A large part of that was the pressure those Tiger teams were able to put on Relf and Tyler Russell, leading to a few sacks and lot of intercepts. Yet while media and fans look at sacks as a sign of blocking woes, MSU linemen judge themselves more by how their backs produce.

So in game four, it was back to Bulldog basics for Brignone and cohorts. "We came out and ran the ball."

Coach Dan Mullen saw more than that. "It was good, they communicated a lot more," he said, adding that the preceding losses were "a little wake-up call" for the line.

"We have a lot of experience and some senior leadership on the line. We want to play to our strengths and the strength of our team should be our offensive line."

Mullen and line boss John Hevesey have been able to start the same quintet each weekend so far; with LT Derek Sherrod, LG Gabe Jackson, Brignone, RG Quentin Saulsberry, and RT Addison Lawrence. Third-fall sophomore Tobias Smith is the sixth man of the bunch and the third guard as State limits his still-fragile ankles to 25-30 snaps per game.

Beating, and at times beating up Georgia should be a turning point for this team in general and the linemen in particular. Because they took the fight right at a physical front and made things happen on the ground. Which, in turn, set Relf up for that clutch touchdown throw in the decisive fourth quarter. Or was it clearing space for Vick Ballard on 4th-and-1 to keep the key drive going? Either way, better blocking is what State needs to allow both quarter- and tailbacks to get their jobs done.

Brignone says to look for more in weeks to come as the offensive gameplan expands to make fuller use of these skill players. "That came with the whole year of experience, putting more plays in. Everybody talks about the Florida spread, they've got guys running this way and that way. Now we're starting to do that, and the coaches are starting to put us in situations where you don't have nine and ten guys in the box and we just have to hand it off and ram it down somebody's throat. Now we can play the option and do the other things, the shovel passes and stuff like that."

Though, as Mullen reminds, nothing happens without the big Dogs up front taking care of business. "For us to be successful the rest of the season we need our line to play well week in and week out."

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