Market Is Cashing In On Starting Opportunity

He expected to play. He didn't anticipate playing every first play. Still Kendrick Market has adapted to this revised reality with apparent ease and obvious production. And why should anyone be surprised, he asks? He's worked years for exactly this.

"Yeah, see, all practice is harder than the game," says Market. "So I've prepared during practice and when it comes game time it's simple."

Simple for him to say. Yet this unexpected Mississippi State starter has risen to both opportunity and occasion. Market today ranks third in the team's total tackles, in front of many better-known names. He's certainly making it look simple playing the strong safety position.

One which, to be clear, he had not specifically planned on any more than he did becoming the starter. But when Jay Hughes landed badly during first quarter against Oklahoma State, tearing an Achilles and ending his season instantly, suddenly Market found himself in the lineup.

"I mean it flipped, because they moved me back to (strong) safety," he explained. "I was playing a nickel, starting nickel. And Jay got hurt so I had to move back to safety. So that changed and re-arranged things."

With absolutely no slighting of veteran Hughes, this re-arrangement has proved productive. Market has taken over the job in a manner all backups want to but few can accomplish. He finished the Oklahoma State afternoon with six total tackles.

His first college start against Alcorn State didn't last long and brought just one tackle. But at Auburn, making the first SEC start, Market was a strong point in a battered Bulldog secondary with seven solo tackles. "I played well. Some spots I could have improved on but I think I did pretty good."

Good enough to bode well for his status as starting safety this season. Not, Market said, that he enjoys earning this place in the manner it happened. Watching Hughes get around campus on crutches, the lower-right leg in the post-surgery cast, hurts him inside. "Yeah, I mean I didn't want it like that. But I've got to take advantage and work because I know they expect things out of me," Market said.

"Like I was saying, Jay is my big brother, man. So when he went down I know I've got to step up. Me and him have been talking every day. They had high expectations of him so I ain't going to make them sad!"

Market certainly had his coaches smiling with how he performed at Auburn. Maybe being in the announced lineup a week before made stepping on the SEC stage as a starter smoother. Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered given Market's mindset.

"I was at first nervous a little bit. But after that first play I was like, man it's just a regular, normal game, it ain't nothing different. So I went out to do what I could to."

What one Dog could not do unfortunately was finish out a victory. The written record will show State lost with ten seconds left on a completed pass in the end zone. Market and defense know another story, that the game got away earlier on other throws completed in the open field. "We missed a lot of tackles," is Market's blunt assessment.

"Because if we wouldn't have missed all the tackles we wouldn't even have been in that situation on the last drive. We missed a lot of tackles in the game and like 150 yards off those tackles." Or, in one case, when a Dog defensive back began with a wrong angle and then lost his footing in correction that allowed Auburn's longest play of the day. That was just an error in recognition and technique and has been addressed already.

So, Market said, has the larger issue of uncompleted tackles. "We came back out today and fixed that," he said following Monday's practice.

It's a very urgent matter of the MSU moment too, because the Bulldogs are about to face a Troy offense that lives off their air game. In three contests the Trojans have averaged over 40 passes, and completed 76% of them for ten touchdowns. Market saw first-hand last September what the opponent is capable of in a nailbiting Bulldog win at Troy that all too easily could have ended up another way.

"They've got a good quarterback and he's going to throw it, they make good decisions they want to go north and south but can throw a lot of short passes." The quarterback-keeper threat used well by Oklahoma State and Auburn is not present this week at least, yet Market cautions against assuming the Dog defense has a simpler assignment. Not at all.

"He's not a runner but they're going to bring one in, #7 when he comes in they look for him to run the ball. So we have to be prepared for that, too."

Plus, the Bulldog secondary is making another round of adjustments this week. Free safety Nickoe Whitley returned after a one-game absence to play at Auburn and came away with two interceptions, giving him a dozen for his career. But Whitley is back to questionable per Coach Dan Mullen Monday. State hopes Dee Arrington, out last week himself, can come back at free safety for Troy, but that's another unknown at the midweek moment.

Meaning just that much more responsibility for the newest starting safety. Happily, such duty suits Market. He might not have been the most-starred recruit out of his high school three years ago but State saw the sorts of intangibles as well as athleticism that merited a SEC scholarship. Market has rewarded the investment, first with his special teams work and then in backup duty. Now he has weekly chances to show all his stuff and skills.

"Yeah, Kendrick's good," defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. "I think he's that kind of ‘difference maker' in the run game, the pass game. He's got a nose for the ball, a great kid. And his nickname is ‘Poke Dog' and he's just sticking his head into everything."

As well as sticking to his new task. "I like it back there at safety," Market said. "Because I can roam around, I basically know where everybody is going to go before they do it." He also feels confident enough to tell everybody their jobs too, which is what Hughes was supposed to be doing before his season-ending injury. "Yeah, that's basically what I'm doing. I'm speaking up now. Because Jay spoke up and made a good impact on the team. So I've got to start doing that.

"They trust me now. Now that I've got in the game I've got that trust and I trust them. So we just go out and ball, and I don't have to worry about them doing their assignments."

And if everyone takes care of their primary business this Saturday evening there should be more chances for the State secondary to make tackles, plays, and yes turnovers. If Whitley is out, that might allow Market to get the first career interception that he now seeks.

"Oh yeah, I was looking for it Saturday but it didn't come my way. But this way I know it's coming, I feel it."

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