Meaning, if weekend visitors from Tennessee-Martin figured to see a less-than-primed Bulldog bunch…sorry. While no one expects #1-ranked Mississippi State to approach the Skyhawks with the same intensity as a SEC rival, Brown and teammates do demand November efficiency. Because, well, it’s November, when titles are determined.
”It’s really just preparing us for next week,” Brown said. “So you can’t just go in and let it be a down week.”
Not if unbeaten Mississippi State intends to take that top ranking to Tuscaloosa next week. Though, as Brown will say with wisdom beyond his sophomore season, that ‘1’ in front of the name is not nearly as important as the ‘0’ in the loss column. So contrary to conventional wisdom, the linebacker doesn’t think their #1 stature has been a burden. Or not any more, at least.
“It really doesn’t. We just go out and have fun. Like Coach says, play with juice, play with excitement. We really don’t think about the number one ranking, just go out and have fun and do what we do.”
So, what’s behind the less-than-sharp performances of recent weeks? Yes the Bulldogs kept on winning, against Kentucky and Arkansas. And yes again there was a time not so long ago any SEC success was celebrated regardless of margin or method.
But opinions of the 2014 team are so high that anything less than their best causes concerns. Whether it is a troubling rise in turnovers, or uncomfortable yardage totals allowed, whatever, the Dogs are finding out life in the brightest spotlight means everything is exposed. And expounded on.
Brown can’t speak for what happens on the offensive side. He does have a clear idea what’s going on with his unit…and his reaction is contrary to popular opinion. Rather than worry, he’s encouraged. Not from any ground given or points allowed; from how the Dog defense adapted to changing mid-season circumstances and kept games under enough control.
Take the latest win, when Arkansas’ allegedly-basic offense proved more diverse than scouted.
“They put us in some situations we weren’t used, ran different plays than we’d seen before,” Brown said. “So we had to go with in-game adjustments and communicate on the field. It’s about communication and how well we communicate with eleven guys on the field.”
So what is the real takeaway from Saturday wasn’t what went wrong at first. It was how the Bulldog defense identified, adapted, and kept on truckin’ to triumph. Whether the goal-line stand or the end-zone interception, the job was done when it mattered most.
This is why Mississippi State approaches each and any change in script with confidence. They’ve done it before, they’ll do it again. “It’s just great coming in being able to talk to Coach (Geoff) Collins and the coaches on the sideline, and being able to talk to your teammates,” Brown said.
“Just by talking to those guys we can get something fixed right then and there. Sometimes we don’t even have to talk to Coach Collins, between us we go talk and handle it. It’s good having trust in your teammates and knowing we’re able to fix things.”
Stop things, too. Like short of the goal line. They aren’t perfect of course but there isn’t a defense in the conference or maybe country more confident working in their red zone. Opponents do get there; and usually stay there. State has allowed just nine touchdown in 28 red zone situations and seven field goals.
And when the offense gets even closer to scoring? Well that’s when their troubles really begin.
“We try to take it to another level on the goal line,” Brown said. “Bend but don’t break. So being down there on that goal we try to make them kick a field goal; if they kick a field goal we’re going to try to block it. So basically hold on, take it to another gear. And no matter what yell at each other ‘put the ball down’. No matter where it is on the field put the ball down and play hard for your brother next to you.”
A heckuva family, they are. And while linebackers and safeties generally get credited with the official tackles, their bigger brothers are making the statistics possible. Review of State’s three SEC goal-line series stops this season (LSU, Texas A&M, now Arkansas) show similar scripts. One and usually more interior linemen wreck the front wall, ends take out any extra tight ends or fullback types, then in swoops support for the stop.
Brown, who has had a hand in two of the fourth-down tackles in this run, freely credits his big buds.
“Oh, they’re great. Like I’ve said before I feel our guys are the best defensive line in the country. You know, they’re going to play hard, they’re physical. So I’ve got trust in those guys. If I tell those guys to do one thing they’re going to do it to the best of their ability and clear it up for me, B-Mac (Benardrick McKinney) and the rest of the linebackers. So it’s fun to have a great defensive line like that in front of you.”
In fact it’s just plain fun playing defense with this entire bunch. Maybe that’s why they don’t get down about a first down or extended drive. It just allows that many more opportunities to make plays! And when they do, they exit the field to increasingly-thunderous appreciation from record crowds packing Davis Wade Stadium.
In fact, this runs the risk of dare we say…distractions? Of playing to the crowd?
Fear not, Brown said.
“We try not to look up at the jumbotron, listen to the crowd yell. We try not to worry about the offense, we just try to focus on ourselves. We have a little saying: we’re all we’ve got, we’re all we need. So we really try not to pay attention. We’re excited for the offense and know they’re going to do their part. But we focus on us and dominating the game.”
Domination is exactly what all anticipate tomorrow, when the Homecoming game kicks off at 3:02. Not that the players will say it this way, but fans and media certainly are looking for a quick and efficient start by the starters and free substitution the rest of the afternoon. That’s what Homecoming matchups are made for, after all.
Yet…dig a bit deeper and it’s clear veteran Dogs know this is more than a quick scrimmage for viewing fun. This is serious preparation for the looming showdown at Alabama where Mississippi State’s three-game SEC stretch run begins. If that run is to end in Atlanta, the Dogs must maintain their momentum by doing more than motions-going tomorrow.
“Because it will carry on to next week,” Brown agreed. “So we’re preparing for this week like we would anyway, and go out and play hard.”