Dantzler, defense shine in Maroon-White Spring Game

MSU's White team celebrates a touchdown.
Staff Writer

Cameron Dantzler sure knows how to make a first impression.
The Mississippi State redshirt freshman defensive back, who sat out the 2016 season recovering from an undisclosed injury, got his first chance to play in front of Bulldog fans on Saturday at the annual Maroon and White Spring Game at Davis Wade Stadium. He made the most of the opportunity. 
Dantzler was the highlight of a spring scrimmage dominated by defense. The White team earned a 21-10 win in the game as the squad forced five turnovers. Two of those came via Dantzler interceptions.
“I’ve been working on my technique all spring and just doing things I’ve been coached to do,” Dantzler said. “I was kind of nervous. Coming off my injury, (and) this was my first game, but I just did what my coaches told me to do and had a good game.”
Dantzler’s first pick was his biggest. With no score midway through the first quarter, Dantzler intercepted Maroon quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s pass and returned it 81 yards for a score.
“I was kind of behind the receiver and he misjudged the ball,” Dantzler said. “I was right there to make a play.”
All told, Fitzgerald threw four interceptions on Saturday as he went 14-for-27 through the air for 127 yards. The Southeastern Conference’s 2016 total yardage leader also rushed for 25 yards and a touchdown on five carries. 
In addition to the two interceptions by Dantzler, Jamal Peters and Deion Pope also stepped in front of Fitzgerald passes.
With the four picks, it wasn’t an ideal showing for MSU’s starting signal caller, but Fitzgerald was able to see a silver lining.
“I’ll throw four interceptions for my defense,” Fitzgerald said. “That shows that they’re out there making plays. They’re out there doing what they can to get the ball. They’re getting into the position to make plays. That’s fantastic. I’ll throw four and be happy that they are definitely improving.”
When factoring in the one turnover forced by the Maroon team, Bulldog defenders tallied six total turnovers in the game. Such a showing was just what head coach Dan Mullen is looking for, both on Saturday, and when games count for real this fall.
“You know the defense I want to play with here,” Mullen said. “I want guys to fly around and make plays. I want them to play aggressive defense.”
It wasn’t all bad news for the MSU offense. Running backs Aeris Williams and Nick Gibson proved to be a dynamic one-two punch for the Maroon squad. Gibson ran for 108 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
“I felt like I ran the ball well,” Gibson said. “I have a mindset like a linebacker when I run. I’d rather be the hammer than the nail.”
Williams ran for 55 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per rush. Williams said the dangerous combination of himself and Gibson is one that opponents should get used to come September.
“It’s going to be a lot of days like this in the fall,” Williams said. “I promise you that.”
Williams and Gibson found their success behind a patchwork offensive line. In fact, when considering who all didn’t play on Saturday, Mullen came away pretty pleased with his offense as a whole.
“They did alright,” Mullen said. “We sat a lot of offensive guys. I think if you look at the guys who played, our main running back had 6.4 yards a carry, so we were able to run the ball, doing it without two starting linemen in there and a starting tight end. Three starting wide outs sat out also. We limited the number of weapons that were out there on the field. We had just enough to go out there and do what we had to do. I saw some things that looked good though.”
MSU hopes there can be many repeats from Saturday this fall.
The Bulldogs take the productive running from Williams and Gibson whenever they can get it. They also won’t mind if their defense consistently produces turnovers.
Still, Mullen admits Saturday was a mixed bag. When his team kicks off the 2017 season in five months, Mullen wants all the kinks ironed out.
“We saw some guys make some plays and we also saw some guys miss some opportunities,” Mullen said. “Next time we come out here and play in front of a crowd, it’s for real, so we have to start making those plays we didn’t make.”