Smith Gives Dogs Lift With Long-range Field Goals

[Premium Article] It'll be like homecoming of sorts for Mississippi State junior transfer placekicker Brent Smith when the Bulldogs tackle Memphis Saturday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.<P> "Yes," he said when asked if it's like going back home. "It's going to bring back some memories. I know some of the players on the Memphis team."

But Smith's more concerned about splitting the uprights if he's called on with the game on the line and with kicking the ball into the end zone on kickoffs.

"I feel pretty good about our chances of getting another win which would be big coming off of last week's homecoming victory," said Smith, who booted a career-long 52-yard field goal earlier this season against LSU which tied for the fifth-longest in school history.

Smith sees the non-conference bout with Memphis (2-4), a team which nearly knocked off highly-regarded Louisville in a special Tuesday night game on ESPN2 before falling, 38-32, as possibly coming down to who excels in the kicking game. A blocked punt by the Cardinals turned out to be big.

"We've come up on the short end in several games and we've gone back and looked at it and we weren't that far," noted Smith. "In the win this week (Troy State) we were on the other end of a close one.

"We might have escaped (11-8), but it's still a win and they can't take that away from us," said Smith while measuring the importance of putting a "W" in the won-loss column. "Hopefully, it'll help get us back on track.

"It's big for confidence," added Smith of the 2-4 Bulldogs who can use every "W" they can get their hands on with the 2002 campaign having already reached the halfway mark.

The Northwest Community College walk-on got his chance to hang on with the Bulldogs during the spring. On the final day of spring drills, the 5-10, 191-pounder nailed three field goals (47, 52, 57) near the end of the scrimmage. He's connected from 60-plus in practice.

Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill has liked the junior's leg strength and savvy from the beginning. "Brent's made all the kickers better," Sherrill said after the spring performance.

It didn't take him long to nail down the place-kicking chores, although he's been slowed recently by back spasms which he says is no problem once he gets warmed up properly and gets loose.

"It's about gone," he said of the spasms. "Very mild. I've been getting treatment and it's about gone."

Growing up within a stone's throw of Memphis, the Byhalia, MS, specialist can't wait to get his chance in the Liberty Bowl. He's very familiar with some of the Tigers, including quarterback Danny Wimprine who set a new Memphis school record for touchdown passes when he threw five in the 52-6 season-opening triumph over Murray State.

Recruited by Memphis, North Carolina, and West Virginia along with several SEC schools, Smith figures this year's match with the Tigers could be a down-to-the wire decision, although Mississippi State has won the last eight games in the series against the Bluff City Tigers.

Smith was offered a scholarship by Memphis. He said the fact that he chose the Bulldogs is no reflection on the Tigers.

"I don't have anything against Memphis. I just didn't find the same college atmosphere in Memphis that I experienced at Mississippi State. Besides, I wanted to play in the SEC," he noted.

Despite the Dogs slow start, Smith believes the team can still make a strong run before the season is over. Needless to say Mississippi State could certainly use another "W" with the rest of the games on the schedule coming within the rugged, yet topsy-turvy Southeastern Conference.

"This could be another close one," said Smith of the Bulldogs' return to Memphis where they won 17-3 on their last visit in 2000.

It wouldn't surprise Smith to see this year's game come down to the kicking game like the 1997 game that was won by the Bulldogs, 13-10, on a 53-yard, game-winning field goal by Brian Hazelwood at Scott Field. Artie Cosby of Starkville "air-mailed" a school record, 54-yard field goal to lift the Bulldogs over Memphis, 31-28, in 1985.

"A lot of games can come down to the kicking game," pointed out Smith. "I think this year's game could come down to who wins the kicking game. As well as our defense is playing right now it's certainly going to be a big part for them.

"I'd love for our offense to score seven, eight touchdowns and not have to worry about it, but if not, I think we're more than ready to handle it and get another win."

Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page.

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