Tuesday Bulldog Football Notebook

HOLD ON, #54 IS COMING: He scored his eight sack of the season, and his blitz-hurry before the half produced the biggest single play of Mississippi State's win. Still Titus Brown had a long day trying to shed ‘Bama blockers…make that, grabbers. "When you see your number ‘5' that's supposed to be in back in the front of your jersey, it kind of gives you an indication that something's going on."

What was going on of course was the defensive end was being held, and rather blatantly, all afternoon by desperate Tide lineman. Make that linemen as Brown met multiple blockers just about every passing-snap, and all got at least one hand on this Dog with never a flag being tossed for holding. "And one guy actually tackled me!" Brown said. "But as you saw when they double-team and try to hold me it frees up everybody else. You saw Tim Bailey made a couple of plays. If you focus on one key player it opens up doors and windows for other."

There was one play, though, that Brown saw only single-protection; the very last snap of the game when Alabama had a dozen seconds left at midfield. At 0:06 Brown spun off his man and slammed John Wilson to the turf for the lone sack that sealed State's victory.

"You really can't double-team at the end of the game. It freed me up in the end." Until then he'd been frustrated by the holding, as well as the late-hit (more of a shove really) foul in the second quarter that actually put Alabama in position for the dramatic ending of the half; when Brown's blitz had Wilson unload right into CB Anthony Johnson's hands for a true goal-to-goal touchdown return. Of course it was Johnson who got SEC defensive Player of the Week, not the man forcing the errant throw.

In fact Brown has played at least some part in all five of the plays that have turned into defensive Dog touchdowns this year…and watched others get the awards. "I don't worry about stuff like that, as long as we win," he grinned. "Congratulations to Anthony." And if getting sacks—he's one shy of moving into the MSU career top-ten—is getting harder here at the end of the season and career, well, it's just a sign of the respect opposing offenses show.

"Let these teams keep game-planning for me and it opens up windows for other guys." Though, Brown would appreciate closer observation from one group—the officials who just can't see things his way in regard to the hands-on treatment received from blockers. No, Brown hasn't given up pleading his case with the zebras.

"It doesn't hurt to keep complaining! You'd like to think you have 56,000 fans that see it but four officials don't see it!"

AWARD WINNER, ROUND 4: Johnson's POTW was the fourth for a Bulldog defender this season, announced Monday morning. "One of my teammates called and asked if I'd seen it. Once I got to my room after class I looked at it. I was excited." Excited at both the award and joining State's POTW club, along with LB Gabe O'Neal, S Derek Pegues, and DE Avery Hannibal. The latter is the only one of the group who did not get his award after a turnover-touchdown play, but his two sacks at Kentucky were almost as good in the game's context.

"We take a whole lot of pride in our defense," Johnson said. "And it seems like every time we intercept a pass on defense and score we get the win, or make something happen." The soph cornerback is correct on that count; in five of State's six wins the defense has converted an interception into six fast points. That's what the statisticians would call a correlation. And the five pick-sixes are tied for most in the country this season.

"So we at least try to score every game, if we do we're happy," said Johnson. Even those Dogs who haven't been able to make points out of turnovers…yet. "But wherever the ball comes you have to make the big play."

Johnson's first year as a starting corner has turned out well, to say the least. He leads the secondary in both interceptions and break-ups, and has improved his contributions in run-support as well. But there's plenty room left for progress, Coach Sylvester Croom believes.

"He's still not the player he can be. Out of high school no question he had a chance to be a truly big-time player. Now the last half of the season he's started to be a technician. He's just starting to realize his athletic ability is not enough to perform at a high level in this conference, because the guys he's playing against are good. He's got to become a bona fide technician to excel and become one of the best in the country."

A DIFFERENT TRACK: It's been a relatively low-key run but WR Tony Burks has gone 18 games with at least one reception since September 2006. And the senior leads in catches with 26, as the most consistent target on the roster. It's just a matter of going about the business, Burks said.

"When I practice every day I just grind it out so that game situations are kind of easy. Then I just try to make the most of every time the ball comes my way."

Yet this season hasn't gone quite as projected after Burks had 35 catches for 850 yards as a junior, averaging 24.3 per-grab; best in the SEC though no such official statistic is listed. The senior is netting 13.8 on receptions this time around, still good but not the sort of game-breaking gainers he enjoyed in '06. He understands the many reasons, though.

"I guess last year I was a deep downfield threat. Now I guess they want to show that I can be more of a possession receiver. So it's really showing my all-around game so I can do both and not be a one-dimensional receiver." Then there's the increased attention from defenders who hound him from line of scrimmage, often in pairs. "I'm getting a little respect from the db's and coordinators."

But the primary reasons are positive developments elsewhere in State's offensive lineup. Burks is just one of several quality catchers on the roster now. Jamayel Smith and Aubrey Bell are comparable to Burks in yards-per-catch and can run the same patterns, so rotating receivers doesn't mean any drop-off in '07.

"We came in camp knowing we were going to have a pretty good receiving corps, and I knew it wasn't going to be the same as last year," Burks said. "It's showing on the field how we've evolved and are playing good team ball now."

And, after a year-and-a-half of frequent, forced changes at quarterback State has been able to keep one guy under-center for the second half of this campaign. Wesley Carroll's emergence has impacted the passing game to the extent that while he doesn't throw reckless balls around the rookie doesn't have the arm-strength for the longer routes. At least not yet. Until then though the wideouts run shorter, sharper patterns within Carroll's best range and timing.

Still, at crunch-time if Carroll looks for #4 it's understandable. Burks really is a clutch-down target now even if the defense knows and plans that way. He and Carroll are making it work. "I guess it's his comfort zone or whatever," Burks said. "I don't want to say that he can just throw it to me because Jamayel and Aubrey have good hands. But I'm glad he does!"

INJURY UPDATE: The Bulldogs are remarkably healthy after ten games. Only QB Josh Riddell (knee surgery) has been lost during the season, and freshman PK Eric Richards (broken foot) and DE Charles Burns (shoulder) put out before the games began. QB Mike Henig is back to full-strength again after the fractured finger operation and settled in at #2 again.

At this point the only 2007 regular questionable for the weekend is backup corner and kick-coverage starter Tay Bowser, who has been sidelined a month by a knee strain. Croom had hoped Bowser would be 100% after Monday's practice, "but after practice he couldn't respond in a positive way. We're going to see today if the response is any better," Croom said. Bowser appeared to be running and moving well Tuesday afternoon, though still wearing limited-purple as his game-status is evaluated.

"Trainer Paul Mock said he's ready, except he can't turn and run backwards. I said well he is a cornerback! He's no good to us if he can't turn and run backwards!"

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