"Yeah, I had to show my athletic ability, get my hands up!" he joked. What the true junior was really showing though was how he has become a true analyst of the game. That athletic interception was the result of plenty mental preparation during the week before.
"It's all about anticipation. I was anticipating a route coming in behind me. But it's always good to get an interception like that." The pick was the first by a Bulldog linebacker since Chris White got a couple of them as a 2010 senior. All other interceptions of last and this year have been by Bulldog defensive backs.
Which of course Lawrence once was. For that matter his very first spring 2009 practice was at quarterback, the role he enjoyed in high school. Oh, yes, Lawrence very much remembers what it was like to run an offense…and turns such inside info against college quarterbacks today.
For that matter, "The way I see it, linebackers are quarterbacks of the defense. I take that approach to how I play." Lawrence is certainly taking a lead role on that side. Besides the interception, he had a dozen total tackles at Georgia; his second double-digit effort of this season. The other? At Auburn, with 14 total stops. Conference play just seems to bring him to the forefront, and in fact his 10.7 tackle average in three SEC games ranks second this week in the league standings.
For the whole season Lawrence ranks fifth at 9.0 tackles per game, mostly because he only got in on four stops in the opening game. "He played well against Memphis," linebackers coach Geoff Collins said. "But when we went to Auburn he studied it and I think he had 14 tackles in that game."
‘Studied' is putting it mildly. Lawrence is almost obsessive now in his private game preparations. "You can make up for a lot when you know what's happening," he said. "I like to put in all my work during the week so when Saturday rolls around I'm just out there playing, having fun." And, making tackles. Lots of them.
"Everybody respected him as a player and a worker," said Collins. "But now they're really leaning on him to how do I start learning what you know, how do I start picking up tips that help me play as good as you are playing?"
Talking of tips, fans the last few games have seen Lawrence tipping off teammates constantly. Sending hand signals, pointing in likely play directions, turning to call a coverage, Lawrence really is ‘quarterbacking' his side of the squad. It's not showing off, he says.
"Coach (Melvin) Smith always tells me don't keep it a secret. I'm making sure ten other players on the field are going to know it, too." Collins certainly knows the value of a confident play-caller out there. Or, two. Lawrence is not over-stepping his position bounds in any way.
"You watch it on tape and see him telling everybody where the play is going, telling them if it's a run, if it's a pass," Collins said. "And (MLB) Brandon Wilson is the same way. They're so into the game plan, so into studying the opponents. Every little tip we give them they just take and run with it."
Literally. In most defenses it falls on the designated middle ‘backer to make the calls. For Mississippi State's case there might as well be two mikes on the field at the same time, even if Lawrence technically is the strong-side position. "I guess you could say that," Lawrence said. "Me and Brandon are like one heartbeat. I feel like when we're both out there on the same page. If you watch film on us we're making the same checks, same hand gestures, and everything." And just about the same tackles; Wilson now has 41 for the season, tied with S Charles Mitchell for second on the club and for 6th-best in SEC overall stats.
Yet while Wilson has alternated starting and substituting with Brandon Maye, it is Lawrence always in the lineup. For that matter almost always on the field, rarely if ever taking a bench break. Not that he minds.
"I guess you have to have a constant out there. One guy kind of stays in the flow of the game and he's able to help out other people. But I like being on the field and don't like coming out. Because if I have to miss a play, whatever, but I'm doing my part right now."
And to some extent other people's parts, as is Wilson. "They're telling the d-line and cornerbacks what the play is," said Collins. "Darius Slay got his first action Saturday, and he comes over to the sideline and tells Coach Smith I just have to listen to Cam, he's telling me every play they're going to run! The leadership part is really starting to develop because people see the success."
Which eases many Mississippi State minds now. "Coming into the season a lot of people probably had a question mark at our linebacker position," said Lawrence. Not in an insulted way, because he knew better than anyone how good '10 senior teammates K.J. Wright, White, and Emmanuel Gatling were last season. "But I had no doubt in my mind, I thought we were one of the strong points of our defense. And I feel we're playing pretty good football right now."
"They've been a pleasure to coach," said Collins. "Everybody was talking about losing K.J., losing Chris, I think the way these guys have played—especially the last three weeks—makes people feel good about where we are as a defense and where we are at the linebacker position." And where the positions ought to be as the season progresses and underclassmen such as Ferlando Bohanna, Matt Wells, and Deonte Skinner learn from the two core starters.
Collins sees the overall progress, based on the third and fourth quarters at Georgia. For that matter Coach Dan Mullen isn't too hard on the defense for the first two touchdowns which followed a punt return and sliced punt for short fields each time. Still, Collins said, "Everybody was disappointed because they knew if we'd played the first half like we did the second half it would have been a completely different ball game."
The Bulldogs have another completely different game ahead, adjusting attitudes from a SEC showdown to this road contest with Alabama-Birmingham. Temptations to ease up for a non-conference competitor ought not be an issue, Lawrence said. First, because the Blazers made last year's campus game a lot more intense than necessary and veteran Bulldogs remember the scare.
But mostly because at 2-3 now State must win to get back on a bowling track. "You never want to take your opponent lightly," Lawrence said. "They're not a SEC team but we never worry about the opponent, the only thing we can control is us. That's what we're going to focus on."
MONDAY MSU-ELLANEOUS: After missing two games with a knee injury, backup QB Tyler Russell apparently is back in the plans for the sixth weekend. "He was actually cleared to play both games the last two weeks," Mullen said. "I wouldn't say he was 100% but he was cleared to play." But he did not, with Dylan Favre taking the handful of backup snaps in the third quarter for starter Chris Relf.
"Dylan was getting ready for the backup role the last two weeks, I wasn't going to put Tyler out unless he was 100%," Mullen explained. "So we got Dylan a couple of reps. But Tyler was real good last night and I expect him close to 100% this week." By ‘last night' Mullen meant in Sunday's late practice. The team is off today as usual and resumes work Tuesday.
*Mullen also noted that Favre had actually been on the field before taking the second-down snap. "The first play he lined up at wide receiver." As for taking over at quarterback, "We had a little package," said Mullen. "It was good he got some reps. As a young player you can't simulate being in front of 90000 in a sec game, SEC Saturdays unless you do it."
Favre has regular duty on the punt block/return team, too, which began at Auburn. "We're trying to get him in in case we need him, get him used to being on the field."…
*CB Darius Slay provided the second pick-six of the season for the defense, and the third non-offensive touchdown of the year by State with his 72-yard interception return at Georgia. In all the MSU defense has eight interceptions so far, tied for second in the SEC this week. All but Lawrence's has come from the secondary.
"They're starting to get into the flow at this point of the season," Mullen said. "And that's an area we counted on. Those have to be guys we count on to make big plays, and the last couple of weeks those guys have stepped up and made plays."
Slay was playing in place of starter CB Corey Broomfield, who wore a cast on his right hand to interviews last week. Coach Melvin Smith said Broomfield broke a thumb in the Auburn game and has played and practiced with some sort of protection on the hand since…
*Difficult as many fans will find it to believe, Mississippi State ranks first in the SEC this week for penalty yards assessed to the opponents. While LSU opponents have been charged with more flags, 39 to State's 36, the Bulldogs have had 320 yards marked off in their favor, most in the SEC…
*Mississippi State was notified that they will be kicking it off early a third-straight date. Next week's home game with South Carolina has been booked by the SEC Network for their 11:21 c.t. timeslot.
But it can't be four-straight weeks of morning (CT) football no matter when the Kentucky game is set. State has its lone open date of the season on October 22.