Bulldogs becoming disruptive on defense

Mississippi State defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat celebrate after a tackle for loss on Saturday.

Staff Writer

The offensive production came in droves Saturday night as Mississippi State opened its football season with a blowout 63-6 win over Stephen F. Austin.

Perhaps lost in the offensive explosion was the dominant performance of MSU’s defensive front which entered the game already considered one of the nation’s premier units. The group did nothing to take away from that hype on Saturday.

“We’re big and disruptive,” MSU defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said after the game. “With our strength and power, we were able to drive everybody back.”

Drive back the Lumberjacks is exactly what Simmons and company did. Simmons ended the evening with a career-best 3.5 tackles for loss. His defensive line mate, end Montez Sweat, also had 3.5 tackles for loss to set a new career high. Sweat also had a pair of sacks.

Senior Gerri Green chipped in with three tackles including 1.5 for loss and a sack.

It was a smothering performance from a group that hopes to have plenty such showings all year long.

New Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead expected nothing less after seeing the unit in practice over the last few months.

"Being primarily involved with the offense and having to go against (the defensive line) all of spring ball and all of fall camp, that is an impressive group,” Moorhead said. “The most impressive thing outside of (starters) Montez, Jeffery, Braxton (Hoyett) and Gerri is that (defensive line coach Brian Baker) is able to roll through those guys two and three deep to keep everyone fresh. The better we’re able to stop the run and put pressure on the passer, that helps us on the back end as well, so I was pleased with those guys."

Indeed, it wasn’t just Simmons, Sweat and the first-teamers producing on Saturday. Starkville native Kobe Jones had a tackle for loss. Ackerman native Tre Brown had a pair of tackles as did James Jackson, Grant Harris and Fletcher Adams.

Former East Mississippi Community College star Chauncey Rivers debuted with a pair of tackles, including one for loss. Lee Autry had three tackles.

No matter who State ran out on the field, production followed.

"We are deep on the D-line," Simmons said. "I said that a couple of weeks ago and that is to our advantage in the SEC. I think coach Baker said we played 19 defensive linemen (Saturday) and that is why we can stay fresh. We can do that for the whole season and keep everybody fresh."

With the defensive front leading the way, the Bulldogs stifled Stephen F. Austin all night. The Lumberjacks could muster just a pair of field goals as they were limited to 254 total yards. In all, MSU tallied 17 tackles for loss and four sacks for the night.

Yes, it all came against an overmatched foe, but the Bulldogs were determined not to play down to a lower level of competition.

"That is something we talked about all week," Simmons said. "We knew they had a solid offense but at the same time, we were not playing against Stephen F. Austin's offense or defense. We were playing against our standard. That means we have to play up to our level every week no matter who we are playing."

As good as the State front looked Saturday, there’s still some room for improvement. MSU hopes to rectify any issues ahead of this week’s game at Kansas State.

Simmons has identified the main issue his unit faced against Stephen F. Austin and thinks the Bulldogs can correct it in the days ahead.

“We’ve got to communicate better (with) just little things like coming on the field and going off the field," Simmons said. "Other than that, we’re (in a good spot).”