To the surprise of absolutely no one who watched the Bulldogs beat Southern Mississippi 34-16, and specifically watched A.J. Jefferson beat up on any Eagle in his path, the junior defensive end is a Player of the Week on his side. Making his first Mississippi State start, Jefferson tallied six total tackles with two of them quarterback sacks.
Jefferson split his first sack of Eagle Nick Mullens with fellow defensive end Ryan Brown, and it was a key one. With USM having third-and-goal at the four-yard line the pair blew up blocking for a ten-yard drop that made the home team settle for a field goal.
Before the quarter ended they did it again together, this time Jefferson the first to get to Mullens ahead of Brown for an eight-yard stop. The host team stat crew did not credit Jefferson with any hurries, but the pressure was always there. And a photo of Jefferson putting a USM running back on his back with just a leg lick alone has made the rounds since game night.
But, for all his feats, Jefferson had to share POTW for the defense. Another new starter, cornerback Tolando Cleveland, was judged worthy by the coaching staff as well. Cleveland was making the start in place of senior and club co-captain Taveze Calhoun, who was held out so a knee issue could be rested one week longer.
Cleveland rose to the opportunity with 6.5 official tackles whether in run support or bringing down receivers.
Offensively, the POTW was a Dog who did not have a big statistical day. In fact receiver De’Runnya Wilson came away with officially just one reception, though some question the accuracy of the observers. Regardless, Wilson had to wait until midway of the fourth quarter to come down with a Dak Prescott pass. He made it a good one with a 42-yard gain, and on the next snap Prescott ran the ball in for a touchdown.
Wilson’s real respect came not receiving but blocking. In the first half he made two outstanding blocks to spring first wideout Fred Ross and then Prescott for big gains.
The special teams selection was obvious. Brandon Holloway’s end zone-to-end zone touchdown return for the first Bulldog touchdown of the season may have been early but it also was crucial to settling some State nerves. USM never kicked his way again, either. Holloway also rushed seven times gaining 51 yards and losing none.
The Bulldogs returned to practice Monday, despite the holiday, but the weekly press conference was delayed until Tuesday. Coach Dan Mullen will meet with media first, then Prescott, and selected players.