Monday Bulldog Football Notebook

Chris White looked at the sheet in this week's game notes package with obvious interest. "I definitely didn't know about that," White said about the page with his name, statistics, a face-on game photo, all headlined by ‘All America Candidate'. "That surprised me!"

It shouldn't. The only surprise would be if Mississippi State's middle linebacker wasn't up for such status. White is enjoying an all-star senior season, setting the Bulldog defensive pace not only in total tackles (89) but in tackles for losses (13.0) and sacks (5.0) as well. Numbers like those are guaranteed to merit post-season regard and hopefully reward.

But, White didn't see anything to enjoy in his most recent outing. Never mind that he himself ended up with a season-low three tackles of Tide ball carriers; that wasn't any issue with White. It was the three Alabama plays for big-breaking touchdowns that left him and the entire unit frustrated. Or as coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz said of the game tape, "Good for 29 plays; three in horror; and 29 more good."

Not a bad percentage overall, except that those three plays lost the game. In a way the Bulldogs lost by winning; winning in the sense they shut Alabama down on the ground. That made the Tide do some different things in the air that, twice, State failed to stop.

"Coach Diaz said if you're playing basketball against somebody and they're right handed, take away the right hand first and when they go left don't give them the layup," White explained. "We took away the running game, but they beat us in the passing game. So we took away their strength but we still got to stop their left hand."

Mixed metaphors aside, White also knows exactly how and why the Dog defense was left flat-footed by the left-handed approach. Flatly, "I don't think it was tempo, it just think it was the tackling." No arguments there, as all involved agree those plays should have stopped almost instantly. White, being too far from the perimeter where the action was happening, could only watch short grabs turned into huge games as teammates just didn't bring the man down.

So, for this week's practice emphasis…? "I mean really just tackle," White said. "And we've got to run to the ball better. It's not really the people missing tackles, it's the whole defense because we didn't run to the ball the way we needed to."

Running to, or after, the ball is very much on MSU minds as they prepare for an Arkansas offense no foe has slowed this season, much less stopped. The Razorbacks net over seven yards every offensive snap and score almost 38 points each week. For that matter last year White had a first-person view as Ryan Mallett threw for 313 yards including touchdowns of 58 and 64 yards. That makes this week an even more challenging matchup for MSU since Arkansas looks for and thrives on big plays.

The answer? "Play hard, and get after him," White said. OK, aren't there any more detailed tactics available against a man of Mallett's ability and experience? "I really don't know!" White said. "If we blitz them too much he'll probably beat us with some big plays. They do a bunch of boots with him and stuff like that. So you have to make sure the d-line get a good rush on him, and a lot of play action. They have a lot of schemes to get him moving around because he can move for being 6-7.

"But really it's just get after him and when he throws the ball try to some picks and stuff like that."

In fact White has gotten some picks lately; two of them, his first senior college interceptions and on in each of the last two SEC games. Diaz has also moved his middle ‘backer around in the last couple of contests, floating White outside the tackles and almost into a slot at times. More often of course the mike-man stays in the box where he can bring pressure on passers. White might not have the same sorts of chances this week, as much as MSU will need to go after Mallett; because there is the matter of covering D.J. Williams.

This eligible receiver on the line has 42 catches, second best on his squad, and nets almost a dozen yards each reception. Guess who will end up tracking him often as not?

"He's definitely a good tight end, he's probably one of the best in the league," said White. "And I remember playing against him last year, he's hard to bring down and makes a bunch of catches. He's definitely the all-around tight end."

Besides all the responsibility in-game, White has some pre-game matters of attention as he participates in Senior Day ceremonies. "It definitely has got my attention," he admitted today. "I'm definitely going to be sad about it. I've been playing college football four years now, it kind of seems slow when it's going on but after it's all over it's just flown by."

Sad for now, he means; but glad about what he's leaving behind after two of those seasons spent at MSU and playing his part in getting a new era underway.

"It's been awesome, it really has. Coach Mullen has this fan base excited about Mississippi State football. Which I love, so that when I come back here one day to a packed house to watch Mississippi State. Coach Mullen is definitely doing a good job of getting fans in here, and we have to do our part and win."

And who knows, when he eventually returns it could even be as an…All-American, maybe? White won't worry about that for now. But he does like how that promotional page looks, including the selected shot. "It's a good picture, I'll take it!"

FINISH THE JOB: Coordinator Diaz has gone through the Saturday tape repeatedly on those three ‘horror' plays, and is still surprised how things happened. "And I'll say this, there are some guys who missed tackles that I would rate as the best tacklers on our team. There were some things that were a little out of character for us."

To get everyone back in previous character, Diaz agreed that tackling drills will get just a little extra emphasis this week. Not as much as fans might expect, because as Coach Dan Mullen said this is part of every pads-practice, all year-round. So it won't be a matter of quantity but quality. "Obviously the players will know, we'll reinforce it in what we do in our drills," Diaz said. He also commented that there is no sense of panic now, not even with the prospect of having to stop and drop some explosive Arkansas playmakers.

"Now if this had been game one or game two you'd say I don't know if we can do this," said Diaz. "I'm going to trust in our players that there are guys who have been outstanding tacklers for us all year and I know they'll respond with a better performance Saturday."

Because they have to. The Razorback air attack is justly hailed for both efficiency and variety. Mallett completes 67% of his throws and no less than nine targets have scored touchdowns. One, chart-topper Greg Childs, is out; but many others have stepped up to the opportunity to share in this statistical wealth. Diaz is particularly impressed with the ‘option' routes Arkansas runs; a complicated approach that reflects both the quarterback's prowess and just how in-synch he is with everyone, everywhere.

But don't overlook the ground game, Diaz cautions. "When they can run it when they want to, then they can throw it when they want to. That really makes them a complete offense because Mallett completes all the ‘passes' when he turns around and hands off!"

Diaz is still somewhat new to State, but does have prior experience against the Arkansas system. He was with Middle Tennessee when they played Coach Bobby Petrino's Louisville team; once when he was the coach there and the next two seasons with existing personnel. As far as comparisons there are pro-style similarities to Alabama and Kentucky… "But they're just different," Diaz said.

"You just have to find something your kids can do and execute, because it comes down to an execution game." Or maybe he could have said comes ‘up' since execution will be most needed not back in coverage roles; it will be at the point of attack. Diaz needs the front four linemen to perform at their best SEC level to-date. He said today the unit ought to have a measure of increased confidence after more than holding their own against Alabama and making the Tide take the ball outside.

The fact is, the Dog defensive line will also have to do the job on their own since Diaz does not want to commit coverage players to blitzing any more than absolutely necessary. "Some weeks you have to rob Peter to pay Paul," he said; but hopefully not this game.

"We're going to have to lean on the inside guys because this week we really need to win up front. They're going be the guys lining up closest to Mallett every play and they've got a chance to get their hands on him."

INJURY REPORT: Mississippi State came out of the Alabama with the only new injury to alternate S Zach Smith, who sprained an ankle in the second half. His status will be determined in the week's practices. "We're pretty healthy," Mullen said. "We have some bumps and bruises but expect everybody to play that has been playing."

NOTEBOOKING: On Sunday, Mullen put off naming which Bulldog will have this week's turn wearing the #36 jersey that belonged to Nick Bell. Today the coach said tight end Kendrick Cook, who was part of the 2008 signing class with Bell, briefly a roommate and a fraternity brother, has the honor for the last home game of 2010. S Charles Mitchell, Bell's roommate, wore #36 at the Alabama game…

Bulldog Club director Mike Richey reported that "over 5,000" tickets have been ordered for all but two of the bowl games Mississippi State could potentially be picked for, after just two weeks on sale. And of the two unnamed bowls, he said sales there were for 4,600 and 4,700 respectively…

Richey also said about 600 tickets remain for this weekend's home field finale…

Mississippi State was officially notified this morning that next weekend's regular season conclusion at Ole Miss will be on ESPNU with a 6:00 game time in Oxford. Which means the Bulldogs will have Herm Edwards in the broadcast booth for the sixth time in 2010.

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