It’s true. And know what? This might not even be the biggest Bulldog blocking story for 2014. Today around the conference and country there are offenses wishing their line could perform at the level of Mississippi State’s unit.
For a bunch used to hearing whispered questions…no, make that out-loud concerns that they were a weaker link, receiving such respect is a terrific change for the better. Because they are assuredly playing better than was expected by anyone save themselves, said Beckwith.
“We’ve picked up our game up knowing this is our last go-round. Senioritis kind of kicks in and you’ve got to go, this is it, my last chance to really show what I’ve got. I think that’s showing on the field, we’ve played our guts out every game.”
In the process the entire Bulldog offense has gutted their first six opponents, averaging a SEC-best 530 yards and 42 points. Both are program record-paces of course. The senior-inspired blocking has also opened up room for quarterback Dak Prescott to make a run—and pass—at the Heisman Trophy.
Not too shabby for a ‘weak link’ line, huh?
“It just shows where we’ve come as a program, too,” Beckwith said. “We’re one of the best programs in the nation now and we’d like to think the offensive line is one of the best in the SEC.”
Half-way into the schedule Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0 SEC) as a whole is ranked best in the nation, for consecutive weeks now. The Bulldogs are also one of four remaining FBS unbeatens and setting sights on the Western Division title last won here in 1998. They’ve had an open date to enjoy such status, and now get back into action with a trip to Kentucky.
The Wildcats (5-2, 2-2) aren’t ranked this week but are one more big win from breaking into the polls themselves. For that matter the SEC East is a realistic November ambition. Beckwith’s attention is obviously drawn to the Kentucky defense in general and front line in particular.
And it does demand attention indeed. “They run some weird defense, it looks like a four-front but it’s an odd-front. It’s kind of a mix between and odd- and a ‘bear’, five-down. They run some weird stuff you have to get used to, and a few different schemes we’re trying to put in to work with what they do. They have good players, really big interior guys of 350, 370, that kind of sticks out! They have the two defensive ends that are really good and their backs are good.”
Beckwith and fellow upperclassmen have had some good tussles with Kentucky in their tenures, all coming out in Mississippi State’s favor. In fact the five-year win streak is the longest against any SEC opponent since the early 1980s. Yet the margins haven’t been comfortable and both teams remember just how close a call 2013 was.
“They’re just really improved and it obviously reflects on their wins this year and their new coaching staff. We’re definitely not looking over anybody, we never do that.”
Nor have the Bulldogs, linemen and all, returned from the break fat and happy with a 6-0 start or #1 ranking. Not according to Beckwith’s review of Monday practicing.
“We came out fired-up, stretch was awesome, we had the music going and everybody seemed healthy. There was juice out there, we didn’t miss a beat. It looks like every week is getting a little better.”
That is the key comment. Obviously an unbeaten ball club, with dominating wins over three ranked opponents, is doing most everything right already. So there’s no need to make major changes and big moves. There is, though, the demand for constant refinement to the good and improvements to the weaker items.
So, “It’s not going to be a jump like this, it’s just little things. The scout team keeps getting better every week giving us looks and that’s a big deal. Coach Mullen always says if our scout team is just as good as their team we’re going to be fine on Saturdays. So far it’s been true. Practices have been harder than the games, they’re doing great as a group.”
There’s another key comment, on the scout squad. In the Bulldog blocking scheme of things most ‘scouts’ aren’t exactly down-the-line tackling dummies. Nor are they merely the future, as vital as that is in the longer plan. It’s a fact of league life that linemen absorb the most damage and at least a few times each season somebody must put his big body in the starting group; or at least in rotation duty.
It has already happened to these Dogs, in fact it began in August when fifth-year senior Damien Robinson was lost to a knee injury. Cue third-year soph Justin Senior, who has taken to right tackle with poise and production beyond his experience.
“Justin was a guy you didn’t know yet,” Beckwith said. “He’d gained weight but you hadn’t seen him in a game. Obviously that’s worked out. Devon Desper moving from center to guard, he’d never played guard his whole life I think at Madison Central. Obviously that worked out well.”
With quite a mid-season story too. First Desper was promoted to the three-guard rotation when family tragedy sidelined Jamaal Clayborn three weeks. Then he found himself a most unexpected starter against Texas A&M when center Day was suspended by the SEC and Beckwith had to hike for the first time since high school. “It shows we didn’t miss a beat that game,” said Beckwith, who not only had been SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his work at guard against LSU; he repeated a week later at center!
The original blocking band was back together for the Auburn showdown, and a win catapulting State atop the polls. The larger point though is just how adaptable these Dogs are.
“We have good chemistry,” Beckwith said. “Jamaal has played left and right guard which you wouldn’t think would be that much different. But it is getting in a different stance and stuff like that. I had to play center. We’ve just got guys that can play anywhere. The tackles can play both sides, guards can play both sides and play center. I think that just shows where we’ve come since last spring, a long way.”
With fall in full-force Mississippi State still has a longer way to go thanks to such a strong start. Beckwith, left tackle Clausell, and Day have been working for just this sort of season since they arrived together in 2010. “Which seems like forever ago!” Left guard Justin Malone is a junior himself and a product of this assembly-line system, just like right guard Beckwith.
“And playing behind guys like Gabe Jackson and Tobias Smith and watching the progress and how they did stuff made us better. I tried to be like Gabe.” Now Beckwith might not be a high-round draft pick come spring…but then he just might. That’s another reminder of how things have changed for Bulldog blocking.
“Really over the years we’ve just worked guys through it, and younger guys are stepping up,” Beckwith said. “It shows we’ve come a long way.”