Ferguson Picking Up His Senior Tackles Pace

He didn't want to take a week off. Yet since coming back from a day on the Legion Field sideline, Sean Ferguson has been better than ever. Literally, as his six-tackle performance at Kentucky showed.

"Yeah, it was one of my better games," Ferguson agreed. He ought to have said one of his best games, because those six stops—four primary hits and two assists—was Ferguson's highest tackle total in years and second-most ever. Only his eight-tackle outing in 2009 against Florida tops the list.

So the senior defensive end is satisfied, right? Nahh, not really. "I feel I could have done better. I feel I should have gotten more pressure on the quarterback, I didn't get too much pressure."

Maybe Ferguson did not individually get too many hits on either of Kentucky's quarterbacks…but the whole Bulldog defense did with four sacks and a credited hurry. And that doesn't include five other tackles for lost yardage of runners and receivers. Mississippi State kept the rattled Wildcat offense out of the end zone for almost 55 minutes, and intimidated the home team into settling for field goals on three preceding series into MSU's red zone.

Excellent numbers indeed. Just don't ask Ferguson to recite them, team or individual.

"I don't too much get involved to the stats. I mean, knowing them is good. But I just prepare for the game, play it, and when it's done it's done. Move on to the next game."

The Bulldogs can hope Ferguson keeps moving on to next games at the same pace as he has the last two. Since sitting (standing actually) out the UAB game, #99 has returned with a vengeance. He had five solid stops in the South Carolina game, and followed up with the strong night at Lexington. In fact, taking away that big evening against Florida as a sophomore, this is the best two-week tackle total of his Mississippi State career.

Just in time for a senior season stretch run, too. Ferguson has adapted nicely to being the ‘old Dog' on this defensive line, and despite missing that UAB game (which would have given him plenty of opportunities to pad the stat sheet) he has already matched his best full season total with 25 tackles. Sacks haven't been as plentiful, with a single so far bagging; against Louisiana Tech. Still the elder State-sman of the front line has performed to expectations.

Not that he takes much personal credit, of course. That, he directs inside the front foursome to that talented pair of defensive tackles. Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox have definitely done their part in the plan, Ferguson said.

"Oh, man, those guys are terrific! I love playing with those guys. They're two dominating big guys inside and they make the job a lot easier." Easier, he said, which is not the same thing as easy. It's a hard life on the front line. But then this group of defensive linemen have pleased their coach, and coordinator, with a lot of extra efforts since some September struggles.

"I always say if you guys texted and played video games like you study tape, you'd be in trouble," Coach Chris Wilson joked. "You wouldn't have a girlfriend and would be getting beat by everybody!" (Beaten by competitors for companionship, he presumably means, not on the field.) "But they're really beginning to invest in it, and seeing that there's a lot of payoff."

Not just with the veteran hands either. No one claims Kaleb Eulls is performing at the level of the graduated Pernell McPhee. But no one doubts this second-fall freshman is on a track to reach that level someday, and likely soon.

"The biggest thing is he's learning how to prepare. I mean going in and studying tape in his off-time," Wilson said. But now studying with a degree of first-hand experience that allows a redshirt freshman to apply what he sees on video to what he faces on the field.

"There's no substitute for experience," Wilson said. "I could say I'm that great of a coach or all that; everybody knows players make plays. Now that you've got those guys playing in eight games you see the carry over and fundamentals and learning to play hard. And the biggest thing is they're learning what is required to win games. You really have to play your behind off and prepare well just to have a chance. Just to have a chance."

That last line makes sense regarding SEC games certainly. But these Bulldogs have now matured to the point where they can approach preparation for this weekend's opponent, Tennessee-Martin, as if it were a Tennessee for example. The trick is not looking at the names, but paying attention to sets, schemes, personnel fits, and individual tendencies.

"You always want to respect your opponent," said Ferguson about this week's MSU mindset. "You never want to go into a game not respecting your opponent." Because after all the Bulldog defensive linemen are working to regain the sort of respect they enjoyed in 2010. And they do mean working. Forget last game, especially the stats, Ferguson repeated.

"We push for perfect technique and perfect effort, you know. Running straight to the ball. It's not just me or Kaleb. It's Boyd, Cox, across the board. It's the second d-line. It's all of us."

Though, there is one outside angle to this week that is weighing on the minds of Ferguson and his line-mates. It is the missing man from ‘all' of them. A year ago this week the Bulldogs were laying to rest fallen teammate Nick Bell, fortunately in an open date. A dozen months later reminders remain, and there were events this week to commemorate Bell's life and legacy.

So when they take to Scott Field tomorrow evening, veteran Dogs might touch that jersey tab bearing Bell's name with a little more meaning. Especially Ferguson, who would give anything to have his classmate still taking a stance at the other end of the defensive line from him.

"He was a great guy, he made me better. We came in together, we competed out there on the field together. We miss him."

Mississippi State and Tennessee-Martin kick off at 6:30 Saturday, with telecast by CSS. The radio broadcast begins locally on 100.9 FM at 3:30 with J.T. Williamson; then the full network broadcast with Matt Wyatt and Bart Gregory at 4:30.

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