Love Stepping Up To The Challenge

It was slightly more than a year ago. But getting his first taste of Southeastern Conference football probably seems like light years away for Mississippi State's Kyle Love. After receiving his first collegiate snaps the week before against UAB, the Bulldog defensive lineman got his SEC initiation at Tiger Stadium against the LSU Tigers.

"That was my first SEC game," said Kyle Love. "It went well for me. Not many people thought I would play as well as I did, getting four or five tackles. It was an awesome experience at LSU. I could not worry about not being ready and went and showed people I could play in the SEC."

Now a sophomore, Love continues to show State's coaching staff that he can play in the SEC.

Love has earned starts in State's past three games, and collected a tackle for loss in each of the past two games.

As one of several Bulldogs in the defensive line rotation, being in the game for the initial defensive series doesn't matter to Love.

Sure, it's nice to get the start and all, but Love just wants to get his share of the snaps.

"With me, I am not really the type that wants a starting role," said Love. "I will be the starter but if I am not, it doesn't affect my playing. I know I will play the same if I start or not. I just want the reps. Somebody else can start but I know I will get my reps and play hard and it doesn't affect me if I start or not."

In the preseason, Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom remarked of the void left behind on the defensive line. Three starters were gone but Croom admitted the defensive line actually had more options for the 2007 season.

But the thing was, Croom needed a couple of guys to separate themselves from the pack.

On Tuesday, Croom said that Love was one of those guys that have stepped up.

"Kyle Love has stepped up," said Croom. "So he is definitely one of those guys and now we are looking for another one, maybe Jessie Bowman who stepped up (against UAB)."

Love also encountered another first at the collegiate level over the weekend.

In State's 30-13 victory over UAB, the 6-foot-1 and 320-pound Love used his hand to help the Bulldogs tie the game at 3-3.

With UAB's Swayze Waters attempting a field goal that would have given the visiting Blazers a 6-3 lead.

But Love broke through the line and blocked his first-ever field goal, which State's offense cashed in on via an Adam Carlson field goal. However, Love was quick to share the spotlight.

"That was my first one," said Love. "But I have to give all the credit to Titus Brown. Before the field goal, Titus was telling me to give it my all and come off hard on this play. If not any other play, make it this play. We came off the ball and I stuck my hand up and got the ball. I got off the ground and saw my teammate running down the field and I was excited. It was one of my best experiences."

Love, who started eight games last season (the most of any current defensive tackle), admits there hasn't been any major changes in his preparations from last year to this season.

"I have been on the same path but just finally realized I have to go hard every play," said Love, who has collected seven tackles, including one and one-half sacks, along with two quarterback hurries and one fumble recovery against Auburn. "Coach has told us we have more talent than last year's group, and not putting them down because they were good. But they only had three and now we have four or five. It has been good for me because I knew I had to step up. I was really the only one that had any experience in the SEC. I had to accept that role and step up and play."

During Love's recruitment, Croom could see the obvious talent and size. But he also knew it might take a while for his abilities to start rising to the top of the depth chart.

"Kyle is a guy we signed two years ago and we knew he had ability and that it would take time to get it out of him," said Croom. "He is starting to develop and gives us a big guy that can sit in there and clog up the middle."

During his prep days, Love, who was a two-way lineman for North Clayton High School in College Park, Ga., was responsible for clogging the middle and opening up the middle.

There is no doubt that Love faces more talent in the SEC than he did during high school. And while he's not going both ways like he did in high school, the workload is really about the same, according to Love.

"It was tough playing both ways in high school," said Love. "But I had to because we only had 30 players and only about 15 players that really played. It is still tough now because the game is longer now than high school and more physical. To me, it feels about the same but I just buckle down and get to it."

With 25th-ranked Tennessee coming to town on Saturday, Love knows another SEC win or SEC loss will likely be decided in the trenches.

Tennessee touts yet another solid offensive line that has provided time for the Volunteers on the ground and through the air.

But Love and the Bulldogs are not playing the name on the uniform. They are playing another offense and the game plan has not changed.

"It's the same game plan," said Love of Tennessee's offensive line, which has surrendered just two sacks this year. "Those guys are very physical and good and I know two of them from high school. We just have to strap up our chinstraps and come hard like every game."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at pdjmsu@yahoo.com.


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