Standard set: MSU defensive leaders establish path for returning players to follow

owa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6) gets tripped up by Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram, bottom, during Tuesday's Outback Bowl.

Staff Writer

There’s only one way to get where you want to be.

You have to know how to get there and be willing to take that path.

While Mississippi State wrapped up its football season on Tuesday and had to bid farewell to perhaps the best Bulldog defense of all time, MSU is hopeful the guys who remain to make up next year’s defense can follow in the trail blazed by the players that are now moving on.

“I feel like we left a standard more than anything,” safety Johnathan Abram said moments after concluding his MSU career on Tuesday.

Indeed, Abram and his upperclassman teammates put forth an example for younger Bulldogs to imitate. Abram was only one of several standouts. Defensive linemen Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons also shined. All three of those guys could be primed to go early in April’s National Football League Draft.

There were other leaders too, lineman Gerri Green and safety Mark McLaurin among them.

All left an impression on their younger Mississippi State teammates over the last year.

“We know those are all very valuable guys and they’d be hard to replace on any team,” MSU sophomore linebacker Willie Gay, Jr. said. “It’s hard to replace guys like that. We just have to get guys in and get guys ready that can play to replace Jeffery, Sweat, John, Gerri and all of them. Football goes on.”

Indeed, football will go on for Mississippi State, but the question is will it be the same? This year’s Bulldogs were beyond impressive. Despite the sour taste left by Tuesday’s season-closing 27-22 loss in the Outback Bowl. the MSU defense ended the year allowing only 15 total touchdowns. The Bulldogs set the school record with 103 total tackles for loss. MSU held opponents to 300 or fewer yards of offense in nine of 13 games. The list of impressive feats goes on and on.

The good news for MSU’s future is, while several stalwarts of that defense are moving on, many return.

“We’ve got a lot of great guys on this team,” Abram said. “It was more than just me, Montez and Jeffery. We couldn’t do it without all 11 guys on the field at the same time. We stood out, but we couldn’t have done it without our teammates. So (the defense) will (still) be good from here on out.”

Those in supporting roles this season will obviously take on increased responsibility next season. It’s the natural evolution of the game for youngsters to keep growing and fill the shoes of those before them.

Green reminds that was once the case for all the stars of this MSU group that is now saying goodbye. Once upon a time, guys like Green and Simmons were the youngsters. Yet they developed into one of the most intimidating forces MSU ever put on a football field. Green thinks that could be the case again with the Bulldogs that are left to shoulder the load next season.

“The young guys who got reps this year are going to be old guys with reps next year,” Green said. “They’re only going to get better. We set the standard as seniors and that standard was set for us before we were seniors. It’s just going to keep going and going.”