Steve Robertson -

Mississippi State freshman linebacker is second on the team in tackles

Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis stood helplessly on the field as an official review determined if he would be allowed to continue to play against BYU last Friday night. The talented freshman from Brookhaven, Mississippi waited for the call to come. While he was optimistic the targeting call would be overturned, Lewis admitted he had a few anxious moments before he was cleared to return to action.

"Oh, man it was nerve racking," Leo Lewis shared. "I really didn't want to be out of that game. I knew my team needed me just as bad as I needed to be in that game. I didn't feel like it was close. I didn't feel like it was targeting, but the ref said that anytime that it's that close that they have to review it. It was nerve racking and I was nervous.

"When they overturned it, it was a big sigh of relief. I was just ready to play ball."

Lewis is second on the Bulldog defense with 43 total tackles this season. His aggressive style of play has reaped some benefits for Coach Peter Sirmon's defense this season, but the hard hitting Lewis admits that a targeting review forces players to be a bit more cautious on the field. 

"With all the rule changes in the game, the quarterback is taking off scrambling, he's either going to slide or he's going to run out of bounds," Lewis said. "You have to be more careful with your approach when your're tackling him, especially when he's going to the ground.

"With that quarterback (Taysom Hill), he's been there six or seven years. He's a tough guy. He's been through past experiences. I was just trying to bring it every time."

All told, Lewis recorded a career high 12 tackles on the road at BYU. While the Bulldogs came up short on the scoreboard, the defensive effort was perhaps the best of the year. Lewis reports that this could be a turning point.

"I feel like we came out and played pretty hard," Lewis said. "We had a chip on our shoulders and everybody played with that edge. Most definitely we wanted that 'W'. Unfortunately, we couldn't pull it off.

"It's frustrating, but it can also be encouraging too. We came out against South Alabama and against UMASS and we just didn't have that edge. Now we're backed into a corner, so all we can do is fight."

The Bulldog defense will look to build upon last week's showing as they take another road trip. On Saturday, the Bulldogs will visit Lexington, Kentucky and take on the Kentucky Wildcats. Lewis reports that he has seen some impressive things from the Wildcat offense.

"Kentucky is a physical team," Lewis said. "That drives me to keep that edge each week, week in and week out when we prepare for teams. We just have to match that intensity and that physicality. It has to transition from practice into the game. We have to be strong at the point of contact and knock the ball back. We have to play hard play in and play out."

After a weekend filled with travel and a return trip that saw the Bulldogs get home in the morning hours of Saturday, the team enjoyed a day off on Sunday. The work week began on Monday. To hear Lewis tell it, the Bulldogs had a productive day of practice. 

"Monday we were flying around," Lewis said. "Monday is the day that you are implementing the scheme. It's all about going hard and I thought on Monday that we had a good practice. (Tuesday) we came out with the same energy. I feel like everybody kept that edge."

The Wildcats bring some different looks offensively this fall. A three pronged rushing attack appears to be the weapon of choice for Coach Mark Stoops and his squad. Running back Stanley "Boom" Williams leads the team with 540 yards rushing.

"Kentucky likes to run the ball," Lewis said. "That's why we have to come with that edge this week to definitely stop the run. Those guys like to run the ball between the tackles, so that will be the biggest challenge for us this week.

Last season, Lewis cut his college teeth as a redshirt on the Bulldog scout team. This campaign, Lewis has played in all six Bulldog games. Having the chance to see himself on film has been an eye opening experience for the inside linebacker. To say he has learned a lot about himself would be putting it mildly.

"You really have to judge yourself and criticize yourself," Lewis said. "I watch plays and I (feel) I could have went a little bit harder. I could have worked a little bit harder. I could have strained a little bit more and I could have given a little more effort. You see things you do like getting off blocks and the things you work on practice translate to the game. Watching film of myself, I just try to critique myself and get better week in and week out."

With six games of college experience under his belt, Lewis believes he is getting the hang of what it takes to compete at the major college level. Each week brings a new lesson and Lewis is hopeful that he shows a more polished product on the field each and every game.

"I have learned to kind of shake the worries and the little nervous things," Lewis said. "It's all about preparation, so once you prepare, nothing should get you down. Anxiety is a mood killer. I have learned from the past few weeks to stay calm and to stay composed, handle my situations and execute what I am supposed to."

Lewis and the Bulldogs take the show on the road for the fourth time in five weeks this week as they travel to Kentucky. The Bulldogs have won seven straight in the series against the Wildcats. Dan Mullen's team enters the contest as a slight favorite, but another competitive ball game is expected. Kickoff is set for 6:30.

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