Well, come New Years Eve this blank page in Beniquez Brown’s linebacking resume shall be filled. To over-flowing, too, as the Bulldog defense faces a full-time, full-field option offense brought by Georgia Tech. By game’s end Brown and company will have seen every, ahhhh, option in the Yellow Jacket arsenal.
For that matter Mississippi State has seen a lot of it already in scouting. Enough, Brown said, to grasp the challenge in store at the Orange Bowl.
“It’s different, just watching film. It’s hard to pick up on things. So you have to really just tackle who you’re supposed to, read your gaps, and basically do what you have to do and take control of the game.”
Taking control of the game is what this Bulldog defense has attempted every 2014 weekend. Overall results have been mixed, and often the best defense was the record-setting Mississippi State offense. Still through the regular season this side of the squad has shown itself capable of controlling the field when dialed-in for the matchup.
Getting dialed-in for Georgia Tech’s ground game, though, is different to several degrees. The game plan isn’t so much controlling, as just containing when the Yellow Jackets run their bait-and-switch option approach.
Literally, run, per Brown.
“Basically you stop the run. They don’t really give away too much. Because nine times out of ten they’re going to run the ball, then throw once. Then they’ll run it 20 more times and throw it once! So you really just stop the run, read your keys, don’t try to make them break the big play.
Mississippi State hasn’t allowed many big running plays this year, so those the opponents did hit stand out all the more. Such as, the game-changing, 91-yard breakdown in the Egg Bowl when tackles were there to be made and weren’t. Otherwise though, the Bulldogs have held up well on the ground in allowing only 127 yards rushing per-game; and 3.7 per average attempt. Again though none of this was against a committed triple-option.
Elder Bulldog folk whose memories go back to the era of original wishbones and veers and wingbones and the like know exactly what young Brown is learning from video. What makes the triple-option so dangerous isn’t as much all the plays and players to haul the ball. It is the chip, chip, chipping away play after play after play. All it takes is one defender getting too anxious, or equally too bored…
…and zoom, there goes the back and the ball leaving frustrated defenders looking at each other. In Mississippi State’s the real control has to be of self. Because, Brown agreed, this unit’s very nature is to be aggressive and go get the ball. For the Orange Bowl that mindset must spin 180 degrees towards patience, discipline, trust in teammates.
“Oh yeah, it’s pretty hard. We’re out there talking, we discuss things, and everything gets up on you so quick. So it’s all adjusting to it, studying film. After every play we all have a talk about. We’re out there coming together and trying to make sure when we show up on the 31st at the stadium that we’re ready to go.”
As of this week the Bulldog defense in general, and the linebackers in particular, learned they will go to Miami missing somebody. Brown and buddies learned Tuesday their coordinator and position coach Geoff Collins had accepted the same post at Florida.
“I got a text message early that morning,” said Brown. “We saw it and didn’t know if it was true or not. We came in and had a team meeting with Coach Mullen. Then we talked to Coach Collins later on that day. So at the end of the day we just had to accept it and move on and hold each other accountable and get better every day.”
That first day Mullen himself lent a hand with linebacker drills. Grad assistant John Haneline is in temporary charge of this unit, and at Friday afternoon’s press meeting Mullen will be asked about play-calling for the entire defense at the Orange Bowl.
Fortunately this is a veteran bunch of Bulldogs from point-of-contact to the deepest downfield coverage. Maybe they haven’t seen this specific sort of offense before, but defensive game plans had already been set and scripted before Collins’ exit Tuesday. If any group can ‘coach’ itself even for an exotic offense, it has to be these Bulldog ‘backers.
Nor are they letting losing their coach impact practicing. “We’re just trying not to think about it,” Brown said. “Work on the task at hand. He’s a big part of what we do, you can’t do nothing but wish him the best. He did the best thing for him and his family. But we have to focus on the task at hand and remember what got us here. That’s playing hard and playing for the person next to you.”
The Bulldogs will play hard at the Orange Bowl. They also hope to party, well if not hard then within reasonable bowl-trip limits. Nobody goes to Miami to be bored after all, and Brown lights up when thinking about arriving December 26.
“It’s a fun city! We’re going to enjoy it. But at the same time it’s a business trip.”