The Mississippi State offensive lineman knows what he’s talking about, truly. Beckwith has the first-hand (and arm, shoulder, head, chest, knees, etc.) experience necessary to know how a Crimson Tide defensive front is constructed. In this case, familiarity breeds respect.
”It’s not the same players but they’re all similar. They’re all big, fast, and strong. They’re going to play their roles and assignments exactly how they’re supposed to.”
And, against all conventional wisdom, play precisely how Bulldog blockers prefer. This intends no insult to Alabama at all. Just the opposite. In a sport where most attention falls on fellows throwing and catching and running and chasing the ball, games like these belong to the big bodies.
A game like this one specifically, all the more so. Mississippi State takes one of the land’s most proficient running attacks to Tuscaloosa, where awaits a unit built upon stuffing ground games. That gets an old Dog like Beckwith, well, excited.
“Oh, we love it. We love knowing we’re going to have a three technique and a G and we’re going to run off the ball and do our thing. We hate seeing those weird schemes and stuff, people running around everywhere.”
Now to be clear, knowing what is in store assures nothing. Besides, Alabama’s defensive schemes aren’t 100% predictable. This outfit can be clever, too. “At the same time we know they’re going to bring some different stuff at us, they always have a blitz every year they haven’t ran all season.” That was the case in both 2012 and ’13 when State used pocket passing more than reads and rolls and runs. It was also a sign of respect, too, with the Tide waiting for that matchup to show a different card.
It’s a different Bulldog offense now; still committed to powering the ball upfield both inside and outside the proverbial box. With Dak Prescott running (and reading and responding) a wider set of options Mississippi State is producing yards and points at all-time record paces. Oh, and off to the first 9-0 start in 115 Bulldog seasons.
At the same time State hasn’t seen this sort of defense. Louisiana State and Arkansas were both physical outfits; Auburn and Texas A&M could run after the ball. Alabama is the best mix of all such strengths. Just as expected, said Beckwith.
“They’re a great defense, they’ve had great teams because they’ve had great defense. So we’re going to have to go out and execute well, come off the ball, and just go play and have run. Not worry about all the other stuff, just go and play our game.”
The ‘other stuff’ Beckwith refers to? Oh, minor matters like being the #1 team in the third round of College Football Playoff rankings as well as the national polls for a fifth-straight week. Yet, going to #5 (CFP, #4 AP) Alabama un-favored by at least a touchdown margin. Some State folk find it insulting; some figure it makes sense given the combination of history and homefield advantage and matchups.
The only group whose opinion truly counts, discounts it all. More accurately, they kinda like it all, at least according to Beckwith.
”Playing as underdogs again, coming out and having no stress on us,” he said. “Everybody is kind of picking us to go in there and get killed or whatever. So we have no expectations, we have to go in there and do our own thing.”
That could be overstating the case. Few figure the Dogs to get ‘killed’ or whatever so maybe the mindset is a bit manufactured. What is fact, is how this team is calling upon some old attitudes in a new and better way. Beckwith reminds that when the campaign kicked off, MSU was not ranked at all; nor were they at 3-0 and going to Baton Rouge as sizable underdogs. The rest has been history, literally give State’s first-ever ascent to the top of the polls.
So if being reminded to stay hungry helps in a matchup that could quite easily settle who represents the SEC West in the championship game, and beyond that which league team is locked into a CFP semifinal, well why not? Besides, Beckwith goes on, analysts and commentators aren’t throwing bombs or blocking the three-technique and such.
Whether or not a #1-ranked club could or should take the ‘us vs. world’ attitude, Beckwith and Bulldogs are finding it useful to put that old chip back on the shoulder pads these days. For one thing, it reminds them how far they’ve come from the ranks of the un-ranked. Second, chips can get knocked off along with top rankings, and Mississippi State hasn’t been razor-sharp in the last few wins. Sloppy success can breed bad habits after all.
So if having the home team favored puts some focus back on Bulldog basics, all the better. Beckwith does report practice improvements.
“It’s been a lot similar to those weeks earlier in the season when we started a skid with LSU, A&M, and Auburn. Practices have been real up-tempo, everybody is ready to go, everybody is juiced-up. Everybody is just really to get to Saturday.”
They’d better be. But, not too juiced, not relying just on the energy and tempo and whatever. When that ball is snapped Saturday it’s down to bare-bones (and knuckles and so on) basics. Just as the Bulldogs favor.
”We’re going to do our thing, block for our running back and quarterback and try to protect him and get on the ball. We’re not going to change what we’ve been doing, we have to execute at higher level than maybe we have in the past few weeks.”
”They’re going to make plays, we’re going to make plays. Just keep the highs from getting too high and the lows from staying too low. Try to stay at an even keel the whole team. Because you never know in games like this what’s going to happen.”