Tuesday Bulldog Football Notebook

Sure, they're keeping count. So as soon as he landed on the turf, ball in hands, Johnthan Banks knew he'd caught up. For the moment, at least. "But Broom is going to pick it up and he'll probably pass me again…and I'll pass him!" said Banks. "And I'm looking to pass him this weekend because they're going to come out slinging the ball."

‘Broom' of course is Corey Broomfield, the cohort at cornerback who Banks just caught up with in college interceptions at nine apiece. The ‘they' now, that is the Louisiana Tech team coming to Scott Field this weekend with an offense that does indeed throw it around fairly often. The prospect has Banks and Broomfield already looking to increase their career counts for picks.

Even pick-sixes, perhaps. Which by the way these junior classmates are also equal at with a trio of touchdown returns to date. They are tied for that active NCAA lead with a Tennessee counterpart.

Banks began 2011 one back of Broomfield in that category. It took only a quick step, grab, and dash into Auburn's end zone to even the touchdown tally. Then when Banks went up to get an LSU overthrow last week he came down with interception #9…finally reeling in Broom at the same time.

"Yeah, I've actually been wanting to do that for a while. I was pretty happy about that!" Not so happy as to celebrate in front of his teammate and competitor of course. In fact, Banks claimed, this is more of an unspoken race. "We never talk about that because…"

At which the interviewer interrupts, pointing out this can't be true because it would mean Broomfield was keeping quiet. Which is not possible. "Well, you're right about that, because he talks about everything!" Banks grinned, agreeing.

"But we don't try to compete against each other, we just try to go out there and make plays for this defense and this team." In the process both Dogs are already over half-way to the program picks record of 16 which has stood since Walt Harris left campus back in 1995. How much longer it lasts depends on both how often opponents keep challenging these cover corners…and how well both veterans continue to improve.

"I just know the defense now," said Banks. "I'm just in the right spot at the right time. I know the defense, go out there and play with a lot of confidence. I've grown up a lot and just want to go out there and make plays. That's what you have to do."

Banks is not saying he, or for that matter Broomfield, are finished products. In fact both cornerbacks and their teammates at safeties are not really satisfied with early 2011 results. It would be stretching the case to say Mississippi State's secondary has been lit up in their two SEC setbacks. But allowing 37-of-50 passing for 359 yards and three scores is not anything to brag about either.

More than that, the coverage just did not ‘look' confident the last two weeks. Coordinator Chris Wilson acknowledged that State played things soft initially against LSU, then got more aggressive in man-defense later. It did produce the interception, but also resulted in a double-move pattern touchdown on Broomfield's side with S Charles Mitchell also a step behind in support.

Banks admits that given his druthers he would enjoy challenging receivers directly, skill on skill. "I don't have a problem with him calling man because I feel I can do anything," he said. At the same time there is the bigger picture as visualized by the bosses.

"Well, Coach is going to call the defense how it is. Whatever he feels like doing, that's what he is going to do, whatever down-and-distance situation it depends on what he want to do. And we're going to do what he wants to do."

What Mississippi State wants is more consistent results by the entire defense, since as Banks said no unit works in isolation. Whether it is pressure up-front, or coverage at the other end, all must function within a specific game plan. Oh, and if any wonder, Banks and Broomfield would be satisfied seeing passers go down in a heap before firing. He has faith the defensive line is going to produce as the season progresses.

"That gets the secondary motivated that we know these guys are going to go hard for us, so we have to lock-down on the back end and let them make plays." By the same token, this Bulldog has been around the block a couple of seasons already and knows the ball is going to get airborne eventually.

"The thing is just being locked-in and focused, just going out there and doing our job and playing hard," he said. "We expect to have a lot more pressure game-time because we're a more experienced group. We've got juniors and seniors back there and we expect Coach to throw the game at us."

And, when the other team throws the ball at them, to take advantage. Banks said he and Broomfield may not woof at each other about career counts, but they are still proud of what the numbers reflect. "Deep down I know it means a lot for us.

"Nobody gave me and Broom a chance nationally of being good in the secondary. But time and time again we make plays and we just have a knack for being around the ball."

ON THE JOB TRAINING: Speaking of getting around the ball, in his third game as a Bulldog player…no, make that starter as he's opened every contest of '11…Kaleb Eulls was able to score a sack against LSU. Not just that, but two tackles for losses. Not bad, eh?

"Yeah, I feel like I was OK," said Eulls. "Just like any other player in college, professional, you need to get better." True, but Eulls is off to a OK start this redshirt freshman season with six tackles as the starting defensive end. And for all the technical aspects he will continue to improve, Eulls has found out one overriding fact of football life courtesy of LSU.

"It taught me that I thought I was going hard, but I know there's a little bit more in the tank that I can give."

For now Eulls is giving it at defensive end, the position he practiced at a year ago. Then in spring ball he was moved inside to true tackle and was running a strong number-two. But on opening night at Memphis, there #92 was at the end of the line.

"Right now I'm strictly at d-end," he said, and without complaining. "It's kind of free, switching from my redshirt freshman year from d-end to d-tackle, back to d-end, it was a great transition. It feels a little better to be out there free and have one-on-one, and get a chance to get to the quarterback."

Dog defensive end play has been a weak point as a whole, at least compared to last season's outstanding work. Still the potential for better ought to be at hand as Eulls and others mature. Which he expects with the veteran influence alongside junior tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox.

"Especially when I've got those great leaders, these great seniors that teach you and show me everything that needs to be done and how it's done and what's expected. I talk to Cox and Boyd all the time, conversation-wise and friend-wise, about football and everything. It's great having those guys as leaders."

LESSON PLAN: A number of Bulldogs participated in an outreach program Tuesday, attending a local elementary school. That included their head coach, who spoke to a fourth grade group.

"It's always a good deal to talk to them," Dan Mullen said. "We're educators, it's what we do, and any time you can educate kids hopefully you can make an impact and make their lives better. Fortunately I'm in a position that when I speak, sometimes people listen!"

Older kids who must listen to Mullen was the full team as they went through Tuesday's afternoon session in preparations for Louisiana Tech. Mullen called it "Not bad, a little better today than yesterday. We're getting back into it. The benefit of a Thursday for our guys is we get the bonus day of practice. So practice was a little shorter, and I think that helps with the tempo of practice when it is shorter, quicker."

That was also good news for LT James Carmon as he works his way back from the knee injury at Auburn. Carmon practiced Monday and Tuesday, the coach reported. "He's getting used to it. We don't want him to do too much, but he's out there."

Mullen also said junior OG Tobias Smith, injured early in the LSU game, will have surgery this Thursday. The junior suffered ligament damage on the third snap Thursday.

The coach was more guarded on the status of LB Chris Hughes, who has not played yet this sophomore season. He was under announced suspension at Memphis, but nothing has been said since. As for this weekend's outlook, "We'll see. It depends on how he practices this week."


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