Can OSU Slow The Road Graders?

Calvin Barnett is ready to hit somebody. He's spent the past month facing off in practice against teammates Parker Graham, Jake Jenkins, Brandon Webb and other offensive linemen. He'll get his chance to hit somebody different Saturday when the Oklahoma State defensive tackle goes up against a massive Mississippi State offensive line that averages better than 6-foot-5 and 314 pounds.

The Bulldogs averaged just 144 rushing yards per game (88th in the nation) in 2012. But led by Coaches' Preseason All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson at 6-4, 335 pounds, the Mississippi State offensive line is ready to pave the way this season for second team preseason All-SEC running back LaDarius Perkins.

At least that's what the Cowboys are expecting when the two teams meet in the Texas Kickoff Classic on Saturday at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

"I can't wait. I can't wait because it's really going to measure how we are as a d-line, mentality-wise, talent-wise," said Barnett, the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year who also is a 2013 preseason first-team all-conference selection.

"It always starts up front. Every game. It doesn't matter what conference or what team you're playing, without the o-line and the d-linemen nothing can start. We have to take it personal because without us our defense will have a long game," said the 6-2, 300-pound Barnett.

The OSU defensive line will be going up against a Mississippi State offensive line that is expected to start left tackle Blaine Clausell (6-7, 310), left guard Gabe Jackson (6-4, 335), center Dillon Day (6-4, 300), right guard Justin Malone (6-7, 320) and right tackle Charles Siddoway (6-7, 305).

"It's going to be a big challenge. Again, until it happens on Saturday I can't you that. We've watched film, we've tried to get a great look off of our scout team, and they're giving us the best they can but you can't simulate it," said OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer.

"Until we get hit in the mouth that first drive on the first snap of the 31st, it's hard to tell. You coach and do everything you can to prepare for it but there's nothing like the real thing. So there is some concern there."

But Spencer is glad he'll have Barnett and junior James Castleman (6-2, 296) – and backups Anthony Rogers (6-3, 293) and Davidell Collins (6-3, 275) – to send out to face the Bulldogs on the Reliant Stadium turf.

"I wouldn't trade those guys for anybody," said Spencer, "but until it happens on Saturday it doesn't concern me less because you can't simulate it. Hopefully, our guys feel challenged by it and are ready to step up to the challenge, and are ready to play some smash-mouth football against those guys. That's what we're preaching to them right now."

Sophomore linebacker Ryan Simmons will be making his first collegiate start Saturday against the Bulldogs, and he is prepared.

"They have a lot of big guys, big linemen. Road graders is what Coach Spencer calls them," said Simmons. "They are big, big linemen, and they're going to try to run the ball, which is something you don't see too much with the offenses we play against in the Big 12. They have a good quarterback, a good running back ... we're expecting them to try to run on us."

That's why Saturday can't arrive soon enough for Barnett.

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