Jackson Keeps Grinding During Open Date

He's already earned All-SEC status and should repeat that this senior season. All-American honors are also within reach, and then there's the NFL draft next spring to look forward to. Still an award is an award and Gabe Jackson was happy to hear he'd been tabbed the conference Offensive Lineman of the Week.

"I mean, I'm grateful for it. Hopefully I get some more of them!" said Jackson. "That's just my first one."

Considering Jackson's healthy reputation around both the conference and the country, it is odd that it took until his fourth and final varsity season for Jackson to have a turn as SEC's OLotW. What pushed the selectors in Birmingham his was at last was a brutally efficient evening against Troy, when the left guard bulldozed through a helpless defense and cleared paths for Mississippi State to net 349 offensive yards...in just the first half.

In the course of those two quarters and a single series in the third period, Jackson was credited with five ‘pancake' blocks, a personal best. Impressive yes, but not really surprising for a fellow who is projected among the very first offensive guards to be named in 2014's professional draft. He was also able to duplicate what former teammate, right guard, and now graduate assistant Tobias Smith did in 2012 when he was the league's OLotW. That came after a Mississippi State win over Tennessee, also at Scott Field.

The obvious common thread is how SEC blockers don't win Week honors so much for their own execution, as from what the entire offensive achieves. And when the Bulldogs piled-up 550 yards and 62 points, with seven of the touchdowns by the offense, well some Mississippi State lineman deserved the recognition.

Fortunately it fell Jackson's way at last. Yes, he understands the attention came based on a great big Bulldog evening on offense, especially from quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Jameon Lewis. That pairing combined for five total touchdowns either running, receiving, or throwing (to each other in fact) and set SEC history as the first conference club to have a pair of players pull off that sort of touchdown-trifecta.

Jackson is pleased with what sophomore Prescott has brought to the early-season offense and the boost given to a rushing game that sputtered on opening day. Why, he says blocking for this triggerman isn't all that different than for a tailback or whatever. "Dak is pretty much like a back himself; a back and a quarterback. So I mean you've got both of them with him."

Still the old Dog has been around the SEC block long enough to know the best ground games are built around the best backs. Classmate LaDarius Perkins, who came to campus with Jackson back in 2009 as part of Dan Mullen's first recruiting class, did not have the September everyone expected with a nagging left ankle. The October outlook for Perkins after an open date is more hopeful and Mullen weekly repeats ambitions of getting the senior the ball more often and in better situations.

Until then, though, backs like Josh Robinson, Derrick Milton, Nick Griffin, and even frosh Ashton Shumpert are completely capable of carrying the ball and the load. "All of them can run," Jackson said. "Just up-front as an offensive line we've got to create holes for them, and keep and maintain blocks for them." Or do some different blocking for the interesting plays seen this season, where Prescott or senior Tyler Russell exchange with Lewis and Brandon Holloway for receiver sweeps and reverses. The end-around and such have been in Mullen's playbook since day-one of course, but suddenly here in 2013 rushing the receivers is paying off with big-gainer plays.

Good stuff, agrees Jackson…but no Dog, no matter how skilled or explosive, will net a single yard without execution up front. To that end Jackson, who has done this open-date drill since he was a '09 redshirt, hasn't just coasted through this week. Not at all.

"We're just working on technique, and the things we started off doing in the beginning in camp, just freshened-up on that. So just sharping your skills to see if you're ready to go."

Bulldog blocking has had to adjust since camp due to injury, as sophomore right guard Justin Malone—the heir to Smith—went out on opening day and is done for the season. Instead of going with his listed backup, tackle/guard Damien Robinson, coach John Hevesy has handed the position to Ben Beckwith. The former walk-on has delivered just as if he'd been a scholarship recruit (which he ought to have been) out of academy football.

"He's done real well, he's done great," Jackson said. "He's stepped up and accepted his role as a starter and is working at practice to get better each and every day."

Even days leading up to a free weekend, in fact. The Bulldogs will practice this afternoon again, then put in a weight workout Friday before being cut-loose a couple of days. Considering that they've been grinding away since early August, and in the case of many veterans since the June semester, one might wonder if the Dogs have a hard time returning to season-speed. Especially someone with now five falls in the system.

Not Jackson. "I'm just ready to get back to work," he said. Because after all there are more games and hopefully extra honors to be won over the next two months.

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