Wright, Dog Defenders Ground Wolverines

Players can talk about reading and reacting. But that's exactly what K.J. Wright and his fellow Bulldog linebackers were doing Saturday afternoon. They was reading how Michigan's offense lined up, reacting accordingly…and making it pay off with three shutout quarters in Mississippi State's 52-14 Gator Bowl victory.

"It gives you a lot of confidence, looking at the running backs and how they were lining up," said Wright. "So we could just play fast and do what we do without even thinking about it."

Yes, simply by looking at where Wolverines took their stances, Wright and company were able to get a literal jump on things. On both their own thinking, all done pre-snap; and then on Michigan runners who typically ran right into a Mississippi State tackler. Or tacklers.

"I knew watching film that they were real predictable in what they were doing," said Wright. "So I looked at formations and before the ball snapped me and Chris (White) knew what they were doing."

Bulldog ‘backers Wright and White weren't the only Saturday speed readers of course. They weren't even the top tacklers, as safety Charles Mitchell got credit for 5.5 stops compared to 4.5 and 3.5 for his elders. Still, as coordinator Manny Diaz forecast, this really was a linebacker's game and that pair of seniors ended up around the ball much more often than not.

That was especially true when the Wolverines attempted to rush the ball, something they did very well in the Big Ten while averaging 251 yards per season game. Not this day, though. The proud Michigan ground pounders were themselves pounded, held to 88 net yards on 25 carries and no rushing touchdowns. In fact, 51 of those yards came in the first quarter; the rest of the contest was utter frustration for them.

And celebration for State defenders. "One thing our defense prides itself on is stopping the run," Wright said. "Coach Diaz said if we just make them one dimensional, stop the run and make them pass, that's when good things happen. And we did a real good job of stopping the run."

At least they did after the opening quarter, where Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson showed his fast footwork for gains of 24 and 22 yards en route to the first Wolverine touchdown. The threat of his called keepers opened up the passing game before the quarter ended and Robinson threw four completions in five plays, including the 27-yard scoring strike, for a 14-10 lead before the teams changed ends.

But when they did, something else changed.

"That was just the guys getting the jitters out of them," said Wright. "I made a few mistakes on that first drive. We calmed down and did how we were supposed to." Even better, in fact, putting complete clamps on the UM ground game and making them live—and ultimately die—by passing attempts.

"I think we did a real good job of dominating them and stopping what they want to do," Wright said. "Coach Diaz did a good job of putting us in position and we did a good job executing." Executing a fairly simple gameplan, too, as Wright said the Dogs stuck to basic coverages and packages. About the only ‘gimmick' was late in the second quarter when on consecutive plays, obvious throwing/scrambling situations, the linemen and linebackers would rush up to the line before most backed away.

They did it again in the second half. "I think we drew three off-sides," said Wright proudly. "It was just something new Coach Diaz put in this week to confuse the offense." It also rushed Robinson into an overthrow picked off by CB Johnthan Banks, which the offense converted 12 plays later into a touchdown and 24-14 lead that really established control.

Indeed the Bulldog offense was able to take the advantages handed them by defensive domination and pile up the points at a Gator Bowl record pace, further forcing Michigan to abandon their balanced plans and go to the air exclusively.

"I'm real glad the offense showed up because it gave us a little ore confidence, a little more breathing room," Wright said. "We could just go out there and play the way we know how to play."

And, play the way Wright and other seniors hoped to in their final Mississippi State game. A four-year performer, Wright began his career with a successful 2007 season and Liberty Bowl victory that he had a hand in. Now he was able to take off the uniform at the end of another campaign, and his last, with another bowl success. Naturally, this one meant the most…along with another certain ‘bowl' win that Wright and his classmates will always savor.

"I'm just happy we came out with a big-time win. We finished out beating Ole Miss and being Gator Bowl champions, just all that hard work I'm glad it paid off."

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