By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Wondering how the rest of Mississippi State’s season will go? Easy. Just keep an eye on the offensive line.
More specifically, keep an eye on Dillon Day.
He’s the redshirt freshman who is now MSU’s starting center, or likely will be when the Bulldogs (1-2) host Louisiana Tech (1-2) on Saturday. Due to a season-ending injury to right guard Tobias Smith, the line is getting shuffled around, and the most likely solution for now is putting Day at center and moving senior Quentin Saulsberry one spot over to right guard.
As MSU’s coaches have pointed out, nothing is set in stone, but it was Day who entered the LSU game when Smith went down, not backup right guard Damien Robinson. Both are redshirt freshmen, but obviously the coaches felt better about having one of those at center instead of at guard.
On the surface, that’s a bit curious. The two most important positions on the offensive line are left tackle and center, and you would expect Robinson to enter the lineup while the experienced Saulsberry remains at center, calling the shots and keeping order in the trenches.
Day, however, has earned the trust of the coaching staff. Line coach John Hevesy said the 6-foot-8, 310-pound Robinson was eighth in the rotation before Smith’s injury, with Day well ahead of him.
“It puts a lot of weight on my shoulders,” Day said of that trust, “but it makes me feel good that they can count on me and I can be a go-to guy. Everyone’s doing their part.”
Everyone must indeed do their part to act as a buffer of sorts for Day. Saulsberry and left guard Gabe Jackson can help him keep his head, and senior quarterback Chris Relf provides another hedge for Day’s inexperience.
I’m not trying to sell Day short here. He was solid at Auburn when Saulsberry was hurt and has improved a ton on his shotgun snap since the spring, when head coach Dan Mullen suggested that 10,000 snaps in his dorm room might fix the problem.
But Day is a freshman, and State is asking a lot of him. Hevesy even warned the other linemen during the LSU game that Day was going to mess up, then instructed them to “settle him down out there and let him go.”
So much of a team’s success depends on its offensive line play, and after losing a savvy veteran like J.C. Brignone from last year’s team, MSU can’t let its 2011 season to be upended by inexperience at center.
It’s Day’s time. Now that he’s set for his first career start, it’s really sinking in.
“Everyone’s watching,” he said. “It’s kind of like it’s in your hands, you’ve got to do good.”
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.