Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Mississippi State safeties coach talks about his unit and his team's up coming game with Auburn.

Mississippi State went into the season needing to replace departed senior safety Jay Hughes. Due to an injury, the Bulldogs were without the services of returning starter Kendrick Market. With the depth chart now flush with talented reinforcements, Coach Tony Hughes has seen some solid play from his safeties group.

True freshmen Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin saw some extended action in last week's contest against Northwestern State. The talented tandem showed some real flashes during the contest. Hughes reports that after reviewing the film of the game, he likes what he saw from the south Mississippi products.

"We saw two young and talented players that needed to get some work in and get some game experience," Hughes said. "They did some good things out there, made some tackles, made some plays and I think the experience was good for them."

With their first significant action now in the books, McLaurin and Peters appear to be responding well in practice. 

"They're continuing to work hard and they're gaining confidence in what they're doing," Hughes said. "Of course, they're not going to master everything right away. Over time, as they continue to work they will continue to improve and we'll continue to push them in that direction."

With Kendrick Market in a cast and walking boot on the Bulldog sideline on Saturday, the role for the talented senior changed. Market did his best to assist in coaching up the newcomers during the game.

"He is a tremendous competitor and he want to be out there," Hughes said of Market. "He knows the defense and he is the most experienced safety that we have. He is a leader in the room and he's also a leader to those guys out on the practice field."

Coach Hughes is usually upstairs in the booth when the Bulldogs are playing. With some younger guys from his personnel group involved in the game plan, Hughes has made the move to the sidelines to be more hands on with his players during the games.

"We have some youngsters playing," Hughes said with a smile. "We just felt like it was the best thing for me to do and just come down and help settle them down. You can look them in the eye and you can continue to build them up. You can work with them from an 'Xs and O's' standpoint and help them make corrections. You can tell them what they're doing wrong and at the same time encourage them.

"You can help them not get too low when things aren't going well and you can keep them from getting too high when things are going well. You can just help them maintain the level of play regardless of what happens during the ups and downs of a game."

Redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant has been a regular in the rotation at safety this season. Bryant was another player Bulldog fans were eager to see on the field once the season began.

"I think he has really improved," Hughes said of Bryant. "I think he's really coming on. He's playing with more confidence and making plays."

While the young and upcoming guys are just beginning to get their feet wet, Kivon Coman and Deontay Evans earned the start last week and were both among the team leaders in tackles.

"They played well," Hughes said. "Overall we played well defensively. Of course we made a few mistakes, but those guys played with real confidence. They have some experience playing in games, so Coach (Manny) Diaz trusts them. Due to that trust factor, they were able to go out there and perform."

The Bulldogs will take on Auburn this weekend in a huge game for both teams. The Tigers reported earlier this week that redshirt freshman Sean White will his first action of his college career in the contest.

Hughes reports that the names in the Auburn line-up may change, they know the Gus Malzahn offense will provide some unique challenges.

"It's still Coach Malzahn's offense," Hughes said. "You have to prepare for what they do. They're not going to change their plays or scheme, because they have a new quarterback. You can go all the way back to Cam Newton or when Coach Malzahan was at Arkansas State. It's about the offense that he runs more than the quarterback that he has."

Due to the different looks Auburn shows on offense and the technical nature of their scheme, one might think the Bulldog coaches would be reluctant to play their young defensive backs. Hughes reports that Mississippi State plans to continue to execute their game plan no matter which personnel grouping rotates into the game.

"It goes back to execution," Hughes said. "You have to put your eyes in the right place and you have to read your keys. You have to play with consistency play after play after play no matter who is the game, a younger kid or an older kid."

As the Bulldogs begin their final work before a travel day tomorrow, Hughes reports that Mississippi State has had a solid week of practice and are eager to make the trip to Auburn for what promises to be a competitive ball game.

"We have had a good week," Hughes said. "We better be prepared, because it's going to be tough. Now-a-days there is not a lot of hiding. Guys can read and they know what's going on. They can watch everything that goes on. The thing is not to focus on everything else that is going on, but to focus on their basic plays. We have to focus our energy on execution and being consistent play after play after play."

Offensive systems have become more sophisticated in recent years. Coaches scheme to create mismatches, so defenses have to place a premium on tackling. A missed tackle in today's game often results in a big play for the offense.

Hughes reports that the Bulldogs spend a lot of time and energy working to be better tacklers.

"We work on tackling consistently. It's something we do all the time, all the time, all the time. It's just something we work on all year. When we practice, we work on tacking every day. It's never something we don't work on. We just have to keep working at it. It's just like running and catching, blocking and tackling. It's just a basic fundamental of football and we're always working to get better at it."

Mississippi State and Auburn will play Saturday night at 6:30 with ESPN2 doing the honors for the broadcast. Auburn remains a slight favorite according to the odds makers. 


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