Dog D-Line Expecting Better Reviews This Week

Good thing they knew the play had a happy ending. Because watching the Troy movie wasn't fun for the Bulldog defensive line. "Yeah, Coach told us as ugly as it looked we still go the win," said Josh Boyd. "So it was a big teaching moment. But we know we messed up and we've got things to improve. It was something we probably needed."

Maybe so. No, definitely so. Because after a couple weeks being thumped on their backs with congratulations after dominating victories, Mississippi State got a rude rap on the helmet. A Troy team not at all intimidated by the defensive stat sheet hung 572 yards on the Bulldogs. This was a total turn of events, since the Dog D had held Jackson State to 265 yards and essentially shut down Auburn with just 216 allowed. Oh, and a lone offensive touchdown, by the SWAC not SEC Tigers, surrendered.

Now #23-ranked Mississippi State is getting back to work. And, as Boyd said, back to some basics.

"Basically we're going back to our fundamentals," the senior defensive tackle said. "Getting our fits better, playing the run better. It's been a regular practice but we're emphasizing stopping the run and things like that."

No surprise there. Troy slashed and gashed State for 223 rushing yards, again more than had been permitted in the first two weeks combined. That stung, Bulldog defensive line say. All the more because they didn't have an immediate answer, whether schematically or individually. Thus, it's back to the basics this week.

Especially as upcoming opponent South Alabama looks to apply a similar sort of attack to Troy. That would mean quick carries angled to either side of the center, and quicker passes that don't allow coverage long to adjust. Or the front much chance to rush.

"They have pretty much the same offense on game film and from what the coaches tell me," said Boyd. "So I think they're looking to do the same things, and we're going to prepare for it." Not just prepare for it, but even welcome it, he added. "I hope they do because it's something we're going to stop next time we see it."

Easy to see then these Bulldogs want to re-prove themselves, that they can stuff a running game. Annoyed, yes, agrees DE Denico Autry. But "We're not getting frustrated. We know what to do. Run defense is squeezing, not getting reached."

Or breached. Understand that the Bulldogs won't change their core philosophy of aggression against the run; they are not going to hold a position and wait for the football to arrive. At the same time Coach Chris Wilson stresses gap integrity by the front four, or three in some sets. It's finding that fine line of sticking to an assignment while still attacking which seemed to have State somewhat flat-footed at Troy. Because they certainly stuck the winning formula against Auburn.

Meaning they've proven to have the right plans and right people in places. For that matter there are many more people for the placing this season allowing Wilson to shuffle his sets. The line coach and coordinator used the same foursome against Jackson State and Auburn; that would be Boyd and rising star Kaleb Eulls at tackles, with Autry and Shane McCardell on the ends.

At Troy though the coach tried a big front, adding a third tackle in Curtis Virges and replacing Autry with linebacker Matt Wells as a temporary end. The obvious idea being to have a stout three-man interior and the extra coverage Wells provided with Ferlando Bohanna inserted as fourth linebacker.

Wilson's lineup for South Alabama should be interesting. It won't be a final choice though. Because through three games State has emphasized regular substitutions and rotations on the front line. Yes, even in the must-win Auburn game Wilson did not hesitate putting backups and alternates on the field to begin series. Then the regulars would rotate back in, fresh of legs and clearer of mind about what the defensive staff wanted them to do.

"The rotations are good," Boyd said. "A lot of guys roll in and out, and it's helping me out not being so winded on the field." Not even when trying to handle a hurry-up offense like Troy's and presumably South Alabama's, which allows precious little time to hustle the big Dogs on and off the field between snaps.

So Boyd is honest about liking the shuffling, even if it take away snaps and chances for stats to veterans like himself. "I really do, those guys step in and do a good job." Guys like old hand Devin Jones inside, and the impressive freshmen Quay Evans and Nick James. Those two rookies are getting more snaps not just because soph P.J. Jones has been suspended, but because their talents merit turns. On the perimeter rookie Ryan Brown has earned his place too, along with Preston Smith.

Autry came to campus with the big reputation for rushing passers. So far he's netted a single sack and two total tackles for losses. Then again the entire defense has four sacks in three games, and half are from linebackers. Tellingly, nobody on the front is concerned at all over the lack of statistics. As Autry agreed, they must be doing their job pressuring quarterbacks because Bulldog defensive backs and linebackers have seven interceptions among them already.

"And some of those guys are making great plays!" Autry added. Besides, much as linemen love sacks a turnover is even better. Still as they get into SEC season bagging quarterbacks does become more of a priority. Especially for Autry, as he reviews how he is performing overall so far this week.

"Am I using my technique, am I getting off the ball, am I getting reached? I think I've made some pretty good plays, but I've missed some too. Just keep playing hard and grinding to get better every week."

Boyd for one is confident his junior teammate Autry will show up big. "He's still progressing, he's coming on more and more each game. He's still got a lot of things to improve but he's getting better and better." The same thing can be said for all Bulldog defensive linemen for that matter, including ranking veteran Boyd himself.

"So we've still got a lot of improvement but hopefully we get it corrected before this next game." Because they want to enjoy both the Saturday play and the Sunday matinee this weekend.

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