Eulls, Defense Priming For Saturday Showdown

Ambitions and emotions certainly run the entire senior-season spectrum, especially here in November. Thing about a really, really big game though, is how it captures complete focus. Just ask Kaleb Eulls.

Stats? Status? Stardom? Nah, none of that is on this upperclassman Bulldog’s mind heading to Tuscaloosa. “This weekend I just want to come out with a win for me and my teammates.”

A win that would almost—not quite but almost—certainly send Mississippi State back eastward three weeks from now, as the SEC’s Western Division representative in Atlanta. Not to mention keep the Bulldogs unbeaten, #1-ranked on all lists, and on track for the College Football Playoffs.

But first…

And to Eulls, absolutely foremost is squaring-off with the other direct contender for the West crown and, probably, that same Playoffs berth. The senior defensive tackle offers positive reports from the week’s practicing for Alabama.

”Preparation has been pretty good. Everybody is locked-in and focused on the task at hand, especially going to Alabama, to a hostile environment. But the focus and preparation has been pretty good.”

Understand, what the low-key Eulls calls ‘pretty good’ would be a rave review from most other inside sources. In fact this is a d-tackle who presents the sort of even-keel approach common to offensive linemen. Maybe that’s how Eulls has not only survived four seasons as an every-game starter in this blood-and-guts role, but thrived.

Going into the tenth game of the fourth season Eulls has 27 tackles, just three short of his freshman season high of 30; and his 2.5 sacks this year are more than the previous three campaigns combined. Spectacular numbers? No, but then the Mississippi State system isn’t scripted for anyone to pile up eye-popping statistics.

Least of all on the front line. There is where the 1A/1B rotation is taken most seriously, and has been most productive.

“I feel good about it,” Eulls said. “Because you have some guys that can come in behind you, starters can roll in and roll out, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s just like a second group of 1s. Guys that roll in and out.”

The Dog defensive line shuttle system gets the most severe test yet, by an Alabama offense that thrives on the simple and serious. Many programs advertise themselves as ‘power’ based. The Crimson Tide defines it. Just ask Eulls, after three intense experiences with this next-door neighbors feud.

Though, he cautions, the Alabama offensive approach can’t be assumed as standard, either. The trick is not getting trapped by the traditional entirely, in his fourth and final rematch.

“You know it’s a little bit different, because you have to go in every year and have different game plans for certain thing. You try to learn new things, edges, even from seeing them four years ago. You always can learn something new about them.”

Such as the signal-caller, a senior but first-year starter. Blake Sims presents something of a twist compared to the game-manager sort of predecessors, able to make plays on his own if necessary. “He’s a great passer, great with his foot movement and everything. So it’s going to be a challenge facing him,” Eulls said. Which extends to the entire offense, an outfit thriving in the air these days…but not the same sort of play-action approach as before. For that matter even the ground game’ repertoire is expanded.

“It changes, especially with them used to being a power running team,” Eulls said. “Now they have a mobile quarterback. It’s a little different. But you see it every year, because you always want to change up things and prove yourself.” Specifically, against the Tide front line. Eulls isn’t saying specifically which blocker(s) he will be facemask-to-facemask with.

I don’t know, it can be some mix-and-matches up. We might get a chance to go against all of them!” He does count on colliding quickly with guard Arie Kouandjio, though. “He’s big, a great guy, I got a chance to play against him and his brother last year. They’re big, physical guys, but we’ll be ready for it.”

Of course Mississippi State said it was ready two years ago when taking an unblemished record to Alabama. The Tide came out swinging for the fences and built a big early lead en route to their 38-7 final and eventual championship. Those Bulldogs struggled through the rest of the season.

Two years later the land’s #1 team will be on the field again, except this time Mississippi State carries the number and the target. As commentators like to say, the Bulldogs have total control of their SEC title-track fate; but with a win the home team earns a tie-break depending on remaining results. If Coach Dan Mullen’s men are to finally punch a ticket to Atlanta, this weekend is not mathematically the must-win…but it would put State in the only position of power.

The biggest ball game in program history? It’s easy to say so and lots of folk are indeed saying it in Eulls’ campus company.

“Oh yeah, I hear it. You also hear it and take it. Me, personally, I feel every game is a big game because it’s the next game. You have to go out each week and prepare for that.” Nice try at down-playing, senior. For that matter, Eulls re-directs questions about the perceived insult of a #1 team being under-Dogs on the road.

Take advantage, Eulls said. “Oh yeah, you have to use that motivation. Number-one or not you have to use that as motivation, as that’s a chip on your shoulder that you have something to prove.” So the better question may be, what makes this 2014 situation potentially different than what played-out in 2012?

“To me the way that is different is we have more guys that it’s a family, it’s a brotherhood. You always want to play for the next guy, play for each other you know, have that special bond. Not only with us but the fan base and with them behind us all the way.”

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