Boyd, Bulldogs Feel Pressure To Sack Passer

There was a promise to keep. So when Josh Boyd brought down that Kentucky quarterback, he had to signal his celebration with a ‘diamond cutter'. "Actually I got that from Kyle Love. He sent me a text with it, I'd seen him do it in a game so I told him I was going to do it when I got my first sack."

Boyd's first bagging of the senior season came at a good time, too. With Kentucky having cut the deficit to 27-14, followed by a successful on-sides kick, there was the threat of momentum turning the wrong way. Boyd made sure the game stayed on Mississippi State's course though by blowing through blocking for a 12-yard sack.

Upon which the defensive tackle touched index fingers and thumbs in the ‘diamond' outline made famous by retired wrestler Dallas Diamond Page. It is something Love, the 2006-09 tackle, enjoys still with New England, and once even received a call from Page himself after flashing it for the NFL cameras. Thus Love's suggestion to '09 Bulldog teammate Boyd, who wasn't at all averse.

"I actually like him, he's one of my favorite wrestlers! So I had to do it when the opportunity presented itself."

There have been too few and far-between opportunities for sack celebrations by Bulldogs this season. Through five games State has just eight sacks, next-to-last in the SEC standings this week. Five of the baggings have come in conference games at least, and three of those at Kentucky's expense.

"It's been a little disappointing," Boyd admitted, because much more was expected of this defense in general and the front line in particular. Certainly Boyd never imagined he would need five games and three quarters before getting to a quarterback this senior season. He had 4.5 sacks as a junior, a good total considering he was playing nose while Fletcher Cox was free to attack the gaps.

So getting a passer all by himself once and assisting on another sack last Saturday points to progress for Boyd. "I know I started off slow. But I've just started studying more film and practicing harder, it seems like it's paying off for me so I'm going to keep doing it."

Now in their defense, so to speak, Bulldog linemen have not been lax about rushing quarterbacks. If not getting them down before the throw, pressure has led to several of the nine passes intercepted. And Boyd agrees, a pick is better than a sack. But here mid-season he and his cohorts want to get more directly involved with preventing passing plays.

"Really they are important because sacks can be a drive-breaker," says Boyd. "I feel our secondary is one of the best out there. But we can't keep those guys in coverage too long. I know they're going to do their job so as a d-line we've got to get to the quarterback."

And yes, Boyd said…these Dog defenders have heard alllllll the questions from fans and friends about lack of sacks. They're tired of the talk and shortage of statistics alike, and are doing something about it.

"We've been working as d-linemen on pass rushing. We feel like we weren't getting enough sacks so we have to work harder on getting sacks. It's been paying off for us."

But #19-ranked Mississippi State needs even greater investment by the defense this week. They are scheming for the best passing attack in the SEC and one of the nation's elite. Tennessee is not only knocking out 329 air yards each week but looks eerily efficient in the process. Because they are. The strong arm of Tyler Bray, combined with the league's most explosive overall receiving corps, make for a major matchup challenge already.

Now, toss in the fact that the Volunteers have only allowed Bray to be bagged three times in five games…

Boyd knows what he has, literally, in front of him this week with an offensive line that knows how to protect their passer. And has been doing so for a long time. "I think they've played together for three years now," he said. "They work very well together, they're a veteran group. All of them are juniors and seniors mostly. We've got to find niches to get to the quarterback better."

Simpler said than done, of course, because just beating blocking is only half the job. So far this season State has faced primarily passers who looked to unload quickly, aiming at short completions. That obviously has factored into lack of sacking. Bray, by contrast, is a cooler head willing to wait for his talented targets as they break into the openings. Maybe that extra tick or two offers some shot at sacks.

Or maybe not. "He's more of a pro-style quarterback, not a big runner from what I've seen and sits in the pocket more," suggested Boyd. "So I feel if you can beat your man he'll be back there waiting on you." Regardless, the Bulldogs must keep charging. "It's real important because he's a real NFL-type quarterback. I feel like we can pressure him and throw him off his game."

This might require getting out of the basic rushes and sending some extra men. Boyd doesn't tip any hands as far as this week's planning but it's clear he would prefer sticking with straight three- and four-Dog schemes. Just not the same three- and four-each play. Boyd has been an interior constant the first five games but has lined up alongside lots of different tackles. Or ends playing tackle. Whether big bodies like Kaleb Eulls and Preston Smith, or really big bodies Dewayne Cherrington, Curtis Virges, or Quay Evans, he's been part of the series-by-series mix.

And now sophomore P.J. Jones is back from his September suspension, adding a veteran to the mix and a good pass-rusher to boot. "It means a lot," said Boyd. "He came in and took some reps away from other guys, give some guys more rest. He's a very talented player so it's a help for us." Just as is the mixing-and-matching.

"Different packages require different things. So I try to learn the chemistry of all the guys so we can work better together. It's just a team effort, I can never tell if they want to change up the scheme, I just do what they tell me to do!"

Fact is, the Bulldog defensive line is told daily it can do better. They're 6th-best in SEC scoring and fifth in yardage, which is not bad at all…but more is demanded. Expected, too.

"We're still working, to play better competition each week. We've still got to play better each week." Especially this week, Boyd agreed. "We know it's going to be a tough game so we have to come out ready to play, ready to get after it." "I'm always ready for a challenge. I pride myself on working hard and trying to study these guys so I can come out and play to the best of my ability."

And, with any luck and another sack, flash the diamond cutter toward teammates on the Scott Field sideline. One in particular, fellow tackle and true wrestling fanatic Devin Jones. "Devin was probably one of the most excited ones I did it! He was telling me how happy he was."

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