GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Manny Diaz earned his paycheck on Saturday night, but he had plenty of help.
Florida had a third-and-5 at the Mississippi State 25-yard line, only a few seconds remaining and the Bulldogs clinging to a 10-7 lead. Head coach Dan Mullen recalled his conversation with the defensive coordinator.
“It was third down, I said, ‘Here you go, Manny, this is what brought you here (for). You’ve got one call to go win a game in the Swamp for Mississippi State.’ I said, ‘Boy, they might run, and they might pass.’
“He goes, ‘You think?'”
It was a pass, and it fell incomplete. Florida then proceeded to miss a 42-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to preserve the Bulldogs’ win.
Diaz didn’t take much credit for it.
“In situations like that, what you try to do is you try not to make it very complicated,” Diaz said. “You put it in the kids’ hands. Our players were the reason we were where we were at that point, so all the credit goes to them.”
Diaz, who came to Starkville from Middle Tennessee State this year, had his hands full preparing for Florida’s offense. Sure, the Gators came in banged up, but freshman backup quarterback/receiver Trey Burton gave MSU fits in the triple option in the second half.
John Brantley, meanwhile, was 24 of 39 for 210 yards. But he was intercepted by Johnthan Banks in the first quarter, and MSU made those kinds of plays all night.
The biggest play, perhaps, was a fumble recovery at its own 17-yard line in the fourth quarter. Cameron Lawrence was tackling Jeff Demps when Demps lost the handle, and linebacker K.J. Wright pounced on it.
Middle linebacker Chris White made a game-high 11 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and 2.5 sacks. On Florida’s final drive of the first half, he sacked Brantley and then dropped him for another loss on a scramble.
“At middle linebacker, you’ve got to have the rock of your defense, and to me that’s what Chris is,” Diaz said. “Chris is, he’s a rock, and he solidifies up the middle.”
When asked if he was amazed by all the big plays he made, White replied, “I wasn’t amazed, but coach Mullen could’ve made those tackles. I’m not going to take credit for that. They just didn’t block me, so I just went and tackled him.
BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal