“No injuries! If you want to know about injuries, buy your tickets!”
Warren’s standard grin told the truth though. And, asked if he expected to play this Saturday, “Yeah.” Which is encouraging news for Bulldog blocking and the general offense.
Because #17 (CFP) Mississippi State is preparing to attack the SEC’s stoutest defensive front. Or for that matter hottest club in college football. #2 Alabama visits Scott Field with the Western Division lead still very much up for grabs.
The Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2) still need help if they hope for any Atlanta opportunity. Beating West leader Alabama (8-1, 5-1) is the best way to help themselves though. It would create a messy and marvelous closing stretch for up to five contenders.
Which is all these Dogs can ask for at this November point. Yes, Warren agreed, “Alabama is a great team.” This merely means that much greater an opportunity for Mississippi State to make its own case for all to see (CBS, 2:30ct).
“And we know we have to come with our a-game. So this is the game that whatever we have left in the tank we have to give it our all. We’ve got to leave everything out on the field this week. And it comforts us because this is what we work for in the off-season and the spring.”
By ‘we’ Warren is specifically speaking of his unit. The offensive line Dogs. Those five fellows, or seven counting a couple of rotation blockers, who this week draw their more serious assignment of the season. To be fair Warren points out previous matchups with first-class defensive fronts such as Texas A&M and Missouri.
But Alabama operates at another level. Warren was watching the Saturday slugfest with LSU and how Leonard Fournette was all but shut down.
“It’s hard to run against Bama. He’s the best running back in the country and he only had about 30 rushing yards.” This, after the fabulous Fournette ground-out 159 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs in week-two.
Now, factor in a Mississippi State ground game which, while improving a little lately, still nets just 125 yards in SEC play. What’s an offense to scheme in this situation. Well, for one thing, “You can’t just run the ball play after play against them,” Warren said.
“So you have to spread it out and get them out of their comfort zone, and attack what you can and take what they give you.”
Passive? Nah. Practical. More to the point, it plays to Mississippi State’s obvious passing prowess. This is no easy avenue of course as Alabama allows under 47% completions in their SEC matchups, and lead the league in pick-sixes. Sacks? Yeah. They do that too.
But to take the best shot means Dak Prescott taking his shots. Especially in conversion situations, Warren said. “On third down we have to buckle down, put hands on them and move our feet and give Dak time to work.”
Prescott is coming off maybe his most efficient evening of work so far, shredding a good Missouri defense and beating driving rain much of the time too for four passing touchdowns and 303 yards. It also needs reminding that Prescott was 13-of-17 in the second half, even after Warren went down with an unspecified but obvious leg injury just before intermission.
Left guard Justin Malone moved over to Warren’s left tackle spot. Malone had practiced it, a little, but this was his first turns at tackle since high school. Warren had to be there, hurting or not, even keeping his gear on for the second half.
“I told them I wanted just to be a voice to him. I know it killed me not to be out there physically, but I was always in their ear when they came to the sideline. After (Coach John) Hevesy got done with him. From what I saw, at first he had his moments.”
Which was a polite way of saying non-good moments. Twice Prescott got just plain hammered from the blind side as Malone found his footing.
“But after he got used to it he played well, especially in the fourth quarter. That was Missouri’s best defensive line and I told him just to move his feet. So he did the best he could do and I think he did a pretty good job.”
This week Warren expects to be back on the job, along with freshman tackle Elgton Jenkins who was held out at Missouri after getting rolled during practices. The larger point is that the Bulldogs can adjust up front with most blocker practicing multiple positions.
“Because you never know during the course of a game what’s going to happen. We’re always prepared to move around because of injuries.”
The hope is no Dog gimps into or out of this weekend’s battle. And that is exactly how Warren describes the matchup, as literal hand-to-hand combat against Alabama defenders who are masters of the craft and Bulldog blockers gaining confidence in their own handiwork.
“We have to beat them to the punch,” Warren said. “Just put hands on them and move your feet. We know they’re big and stout, so this week is going to be all about coming off the ball and controlling the line of scrimmage.”