Dog D-Tackle Making First Trip to Mountains, Facing Balanced Cougar Offense

Talk about reaching new heights… Thursday evening will find A.J. Jefferson visiting higher ground than ever in his young life. Because this Bulldog has never, ever been in mountain country.

“No. I’ve been to the hill, right down the road!” Jefferson laughed, waving vaguely in direction of the short slope Mississippi State uses for conditioning and rehabilitation. “That’s the closest I’ve been to the mountains! So it going to be a little different!”

A lot different in altitude terms. Provo is 4,550 feet above sea level; Starkville is…not. Though Jefferson is from the ironically-named Summit, Miss., listed at a lofty 433 feet.

The Dog defensive lineman looks forward to seeing new territory regardless. “Coach said it might be a little snow on top of them. I started laughing. So I think it will be a pretty neat deal to get to go there and play.”

It would be much neater for Mississippi State (2-3) to come back with a victory over Brigham Young (3-3). That’s a, no pun intended, tall task. Especially for a Bulldog team beaten and baffled by a lopsided home loss to Auburn.

Old Dog Jefferson may be—no, he indeed is—a team jokester. At the same time he’s entirely-objective about this mid-season situation. “It’s going to happen. So just get ready for next week, is all I can do.”

Over the course of his Mississippi State career Jefferson has done his duty getting ready for every new week and new matchup. It has put him in the spotlight as an all-conference and all-American prospect, which so far Jefferson is playing as.

Nine of his 23 total tackles have been on the other side of the scrimmage line, with 3.0 sacks. The rest of the defense has 8.0 combined sacks. Jefferson is ahead of even his strong 2015 statistical pace. But last Saturday was frustrating; two tackles and both assists.

Auburn made an obvious point of finding #47 and keeping him away from the ball.

“They were good up-front. Their guys are well-coached, they really didn’t mess-up at all. I just felt like there weren’t too many plays for me to be made.”

The same holds for the full Dog defense, which made some but not enough tackles-for-losses. Or just plain tackles at the line, or right past it, as the Tigers slashed and gashed. In the shortened work week team co-captain Jefferson has tried setting or re-setting a tone.

“I told the d-line yesterday in the meeting room, this is what we came here to do. To play football. Right, wrong, indifferent, we have to enjoy it. Because having fun is just not going out and being goofy all the time. It’s just have fun, working hard, you know. Doing something you came here to do, something you love to do. That’s the biggest thing I stress to them.”

Meanwhile coordinator Peter Sirmon is stressing his own responsibility for defensive breakdowns this season, with every game featuring whole lost halves. The same applies to the offense of course. Jefferson understands what the coach is saying.

He just doesn’t want all failures assigned to a non-player. Maybe not most of it.

“I mean, he can’t just put all the blame on him,” Jefferson said. “Because he’s not on the field actually playing. So that’s just coach’s talk. He can say what he wants but he was not on the field. That’s us.

“As far as play calling, it’s not like he knows what exact plays the offense is going to run. We just have to ***-up when it’s time, that’s all that is.”

The next time is around 8:21 mountain when the Bulldogs line-up against a Cougar team that is on a high of their own. BYU outscored Toledo 55-53, then hammered Michigan State in East Lansing last weekend. It’s not anything like the high-flying offenses of the last time State played BYU in Provo (2000), just a much more balanced and maybe more difficult attack to prepare for.

“They’ve got a real good running back,” Jefferson said. “The offensive line, I think they’re a good group. They block to the whistle, they literally do that. They’re going to stick to you and they’re physical.”

So it’s a tall hill, so to speak, Mississippi State has to climb Friday. Certainly higher than anything Jefferson has attempted as a ballplayer. Though, he said, that short slope by the practice field?

“It’s more like a d*** wall!”

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