Dog Defensive End leads State in Sacks, but Keying On Aggie Ground Game

Well sure. The week’s story-line on defense is about covering receivers and supporting the run and making tackles in space. But ask A.J. Jefferson, what are the defensive line Dogs thinking?

“I feel this is going to be a big game for us, too.”

Big indeed. Those four, or depending on package three, big Bulldogs at the point of first contact have a great big burden on their broad shoulders. Handle it well, and suddenly the work load for everyone else gets a little lighter.

It’s a challenge defensive end Jefferson and line-mates accept. “I know for a fact our front-seven can match up with anybody in this league. So we just have to keep on doing what we do.”

Jefferson has been doing his share very well all season. Four games in the books and this Mississippi State junior is not just second on his team in tackles…though that’s a big deal in itself. Usually linebackers and safeties clean-up on that stat sheet.

It’s where a d-end ought show up big that Jefferson is expected to show. He does, ranking third in SEC tackles for loss and sixth in sacks. Which is saying something since most MSU opponents in September ran the ball way, way more often than they dared throw it.

Texas A&M…is a whole ‘nother proposition. The Aggies do tilt their play selection more to the ground side, but not by much. They tote or toss with equal confidence, and from most any set. Jefferson said scouting will begin with the rushing schemes.

“I mean, we know they want to run the ball, take big shots. So our preparation as far as trying to take seams out of it and stuff like that, I think we’ve done pretty good,” Jefferson said. Because seams start at the line of scrimmage and only grow downfield.

“Coach (David) Turner has been stressing the A-gap tackles have to be on cue. So I think Chris Jones, Nick James, Nelson Adams, Torrey Dale, Cory and Braxton have all stepped up this weekend and made that possible.”

That’s the tackles’ tasks. What about the ends? Well first off, “They’re going to be a tempo team. So we have to get lined-up and play ball,” Jefferson said. He and Ryan Brown will be lining-up first on either end. With this series’ tendencies showing lots, lots, and lots of snaps the starters will have to take their breaks though. Even outright rotate, if necessary.

“Pass rushing every play you will get tired. So I feel this game will be an opportunity for like Kojak, Johnathan Calvin, who is a really fast guy. I feel it will be an opportunity for him to show what he can do on the edge. I feel it will be a game where a bunch of us can tee-up and show what we can do.”

By the way, don’t get the idea Jefferson is looking to take-off on every snap. Go back to that run/pass ratio. Then see Tra Carson’s 4.6 yards per-run production and 80 yards each week. A bruiser, “The first guy has to stop his forward progress,” said Jefferson. “And everybody else go for the ball.”

Jefferson has seen A&M offenses for a couple of years now. Last season he even got in on a sack-and-a-half in State’s home field victory. Still the Aggies put up points in ’14, and more of them in ’13. Names change, but the theme remains.

“I really feel they’re the same offense. They’ve got speed out of this world, if you don’t get your hands on them they can go. Their offensive line is pretty good, got a couple of veteran guys coming back. So they’re pretty much Texas A&M.”

And Mississippi State? There are plenty new starters for ’15 here, too. But while the offense is still finding its best balance, the defense is beginning to more resemble predecessors. Especially as sophs and freshmen get up to SEC speed.
Nothing accelerates learning like success, and winning at Auburn last week should stand State in good stead headed to the other side of the Division.

“That was the first SEC road game, a bunch of young guys played a lot,” said Jefferson, referring to hostile crowds, different noises, everything. “That’s a big boost. For everybody, the older guys too.”

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