Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

First year Mississippi State defensive line coach Brian Baker assesses his unit's early season showing.

The Mississippi State defensive line has demonstrated some strong play through three games, but Bulldog defensive line coach Brian Baker is looking for a more consistent effort. As the Bulldogs board the plane for Foxboro, Massachusetts for a date with UMASS, Baker's message today is about consistency.

"We are up and down, kind of like the season," Baker said of his personnel group. "I thought we did some good things the first week and then I thought we did better against South Carolina as far as technique, production and that kind of thing. We were hot and cold last week (LSU), so we have been up and down."

Baker has worked hard to instill a sense of high standards during his time in Starkville. The veteran coach reports that his hope is that his players continue to strive towards the foundational standards of the Mississippi State program.

"I use the word standard and I tell them that the standard is based on who you are," Baker shared. "You have to set a high standard for yourself. Everybody's game is not going to look the same, but great players should be striving to play great every week. It starts at practice. You have to practice well and then transition that into the game. Standard is an important word for us."

The Bulldogs play a lot of seniors in the rotation at defensive line, but true freshmen Jeffery Simmons and Marquiss Spencer are beginning to see more reps as the season moves forward. Baker reports that the young Dogs are still a work in progress.

"They're figuring it out," Baker said of the true frosh. "Looking at the two as freshmen, puts me in the mindset of looking at rookies in the NFL. Obviously those guys are very talented coming in, but they have to figure out how to use their skill sets to win the downs. We give them a foundation of the 'dos and don'ts', but they still have to figure it out.

"The line of scrimmage is a different place. The speed is different and the type of guys you're playing against every week is different. You have to figure out how you as an individual can play and how you can maximize what you have at that particular time."

A.J. Jefferson emerged as a Bulldog leader last season. Now a senior, the talented defensive end continues to lead by solid on the field example. According to his position coach, Baker, Jefferson still has some room to grow.

"I think he's growing with it," Baker said. "He's still sort of hot and cold with the leadership part of it. His play has been okay. He's done really well at times and he's good at other times. He's indicative of our group right now. We have to be more consistent and we need that consistency to be consistently well and not consistently up and down."

Baker, an NFL veteran coach of some two decades of pro football, will take his new team, Mississippi State, to Gillette Stadium this weekend. The return trip to the home of the Patriots brings back a lot of memories for Baker.

"We have played New England just about every place that I have been," Baker said. "I believe we have played every game down to the last possession. The last time I was there, I believe it was with Cleveland, we had them by 11 in the 4th quarter. We were hoping we should win instead of feeling like we should crush them. You could really see the difference between a team that expected to win and a team that hoped to win.

"The valuable lesson learned that day was that you have to always go in expecting to win. You can't let circumstances change your mind.

"My experiences at Gillette have not been good against the New England Patriots, but there are a whole of people who have gone up there and not had great experiences. It's always been competitive and I expect it to be competitive when we go up there this weekend."

The trip to Foxboro is one filled with novelty for Bulldog players, but the chance to play in an NFL venue is not a new experience for most in the Maroon and White. Having played the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina last season, State has a working knowledge of how things go in a pro stadium.

"Hopefully the challenge we placed in front of them, to be the best they can be, to maximize their effort and maximize their potential everyday is the challenge we are trying to meet," Baker explained. "It shouldn't matter if it's in the parking lot or in Gillette Stadium or in our place with our great fans with the energy that is always there, the task is the same.

"Once the foot hits the ball, you have to line up ready to face that guy across from you. You have to be determined enough to win the down. You have to win more downs than you lose and as a result we play great defense."

With a few games under his belt wearing official issue Maroon and White Adidas, Baker is enjoying the Mississippi State experience. Now that the season is in full swing, the veteran coach appears to be enjoying a return to the college game.

"It's been great," Baker said. "It has been a real blessing to both me and my family to have an opportunity to be in an environment like this. It's great to be in a place where football is a passion and not just a game and where the whole town embraces you. These guys think about ball all day long, hopefully. That's the way a lot of them were raised and that part has been new for me.

"When I was last in college, I was in a big city with Georgia Tech in Atlanta. There were a lot of different things to do and a lot of different distractions. Atlanta is just different than Starkville. To be in a real college town where football is king and the expectations are high is exciting for me. It's a real blessing."

Mississippi State (1-2) will take on UMASS (1-2) on Saturday with kickoff set for 2:30 central. The contest will be carried by local television affiliates as well as the ESPN3 on line broadcast mediums. The Bulldogs are three touchdown favorites in the game, but the Minutemen have played hard against Power 5 foes Boston College and Florida. A competitive game is expected again this Saturday.

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