A heckuva setting for a still-young Dog to make his first appearance at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, huh? Last time Mississippi State visited Oxford, then-redshirting freshman Beniquez Brown was in north Alabama unable to help his teammates avoid defeat.
“I was at home, talking to my Mom and watching that game. It was a disappointing loss, knowing we don’t want to lose the Egg Bowl and it happened,” Brown said. But, “You can’t think about it, that’s in the past.”
A past these 2014 Bulldogs believe they’ve learned from. Just as State’s defense figure to apply some more successful experiences from the 2013 meeting at Scott Field. That night the Dogs were as dialed-in defensively as any time all season, maybe even for Coach Dan Mullen’s entire tenure to-then.
A potent Rebel offense was limited to 318 yards on 78 snaps without reaching State’s goal line. Their only touchdown was on a blocked punt before halftime; otherwise Ole Miss was limited to one made and one missed field goal. They also managed 201 yards in the air but needed 43 throws to do it.
Brown had a supporting hand in the upset with a couple of tackles, playing in a gutsy rotation plan by coordinator Geoff Collins which set the stage for this year’s 1A/1B defensive scheme. A year later, Brown said the script was really written weeks earlier.
“We just really got it all together after that Texas A&M game last year, we came as one and played hard and had eleven guys running to the ball.” In the process they held a visiting Ole Miss offense without a touchdown for the second-straight home game in the series.
But this year’s rematch is 100 miles from home field, not to mention light-years’ change in atmosphere. Also in 2014 the Bulldogs are playing for the obviously-higher stakes, compared to last November when that State squad was desperate for bowl eligibility. The Rebels can score a fine holiday destination of their own by turning the tables this time around.
All of those become extraneous issues though once the rivals begin warming-up. For Brown’s part his only concern today is a little final scouting and scheming for an Ole Miss offense that is pretty similar in philosophy but increasingly different in approach. Injury to one spectacular play-maker has brought other talented Rebels to the forefront, after a few games to adapt and apply.
Brown has seen how well quarterback Bo Wallace spreads his short-drop passes around with every sort of screen outside and quick slants inside. It all happens so quickly that sacks are unlikely and coverage has to be instant and perfect. Plus, as Brown said his unit has been warned, there will be ‘eye candy’ strewn all over the field to tantalize over-aggressive defenders.
“They like a lot of miss-direction to try to get you off your keys. So it’s really paying attention and watching what they do, and get to the ball.” Again, this all matches what State saw last season. But for linebacker Brown there is absolutely something new to watch for.
This time they have a tight end (Evan Engram) back who wasn’t there. They do a lot of different things now that they didn’t do last year because he’s back in the lineup. He can do a lot of things for that team.”
There’s another popular perception that the Rebels don’t invest in the ground game. Brown sees something other than what simple numbers suggest.
“They run the ball, like to get outside the tackles and they like to run inside. They like to do a lot of different things. So just come in, prepare for everything, and get out there.” Nor, Brown cautioned, should State put a lot of stock in Ole Miss’ turnover issues at Arkansas, or for that matter the three picks and one game-deciding fumble recovered by Dogs last year.
“We don’t worry about it because any team can have an off-game. We really don’t depend on that, just play our game and play the defense like we know how to play.”
For a sophomore and first-season starter, Brown certainly knows how to play SEC football. He scored ten total tackles last week in a shutout of Vanderbilt, giving him 55 stops on the season with 2.0 sacks and 6.5 tackles for losses. He also snagged his first varsity interception last weekend with a 24-yard return.
Nominally an outside ‘backer, as this season has developed Brown spends about as many snaps lined-up in the middle of everything. This frees junior MLB Benardrick McKinney to take his stance as practically another defensive end, while senior OLB Matthew Wells plays, well, everywhere as maybe the most versatile linebacker in the whole SEC. It will be instructive Saturday to see if Collins sticks to the rotation—Christian Holmes and Richie Brown are hardly ‘second’ teamers after all—or if State gives the 1A trio more snaps than usual.
Whatever the script, Brown is satisfied with rotation and scheme and mindset. Whoever the eleven on-field are, he said they will all run to the ball. “If we do that Saturday it should be a good day.” Oh, and the other key? Keeping control, even in an environment Dogs rarely enjoy. This might be Brown’s first exposure to Oxford but he’s been coached-up for the opportunity.
“Don’t let it get to you. Older guys talk to us about be prepared for a hostile environment but don’t let it get to us. Just come out and dominate and play Mississippi State football.”