STARKVILLE – Leon Berry could hear the crowd’s roar starting to swell, but as he raced down the soggy field at Vanderbilt Stadium, the sizable Mississippi State contingent quickly fell silent.
By the time Berry crossed the goal line last Saturday night, he already knew it was coming back. What should’ve been an 89-yard touchdown on the game’s opening kickoff for Mississippi State was negated by a holding penalty on true freshman Cameron Lawrence.
“That kind of hurt me a little bit,” Berry said, “because that was my first one I got this year.”
The hold probably didn’t give Berry an advantage, but he shook off the disappointment and patted Lawrence on the head.
“I told him, ‘Man, it’s good.’ We’ve just got to execute on that and hopefully get one this weekend.”
The junior college transfer has had some big returns for MSU, but he hasn’t yet found the end zone. Berry is averaging 25.6 yards per kickoff return and 10.4 per punt return. His 128.3 all-purpose yards per game ranks fourth in the SEC.
Berry also plays receiver and leads State with seven catches for 77 yards.
When MSU (2-1, 1-1 SEC) plays No. 7 LSU (3-0, 1-0) today at Davis Wade Stadium, the visiting Tigers will have a keen eye on Berry.
“He runs fearlessly,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He’s a very, very capable return man. We’re spending a little bit more time studying and preparing and practicing that phase of our game.”
It’s a big load, but one Berry is handling well.
“Sometimes I’ll be a little tired, but coach, he always looks out for me,” Berry said. “He’ll ask me, am I tired, can I go, and I’ll be like, ‘Nah, I need a couple of plays.’ And he’ll give me a little break.”
Dan Mullen, the ever-demanding first-year coach for MSU, thinks Berry is OK with such a workload.
“He needs to be a much better blocker and a much more consistent player, but made some plays on special teams and did a good job, and did a couple nice things on offense,” Mullen said.
Staying on Holliday
MSU’s got a return man to worry about, too, someone who’s a proven playmaker: Trindon Holliday.
The world-class sprinter hasn’t gotten loose yet this season – he’s averaging 12.7 yards on kick returns and 7.4 on punt returns – but the senior has three career touchdown returns.
“Everybody’s got to be real disciplined, do their job, be right where they’re supposed to be, and contain him,” Mullen said. “And if we do that, we’ve got a shot to contain him.”
Teams tend to avoid the 5-foot-5 Holliday by kicking away from him, but that often translates into good starting field position for LSU. Giving Holliday the ball is always a risky proposition.
“Give him a sliver,” Mile said. “Give him a little space, and if he gets a little space, we feel very confident that he can get through it.”
Contact Brad Locke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-1571.
Today’s game at a glance
– Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville.
– Kickoff: 11:21 a.m. n Television: SEC Network (WCBI Columbus); live streaming at ESPN360.com
– Radio: MSU network; XM Channel 199; Sirius Channel 214.
– Records: LSU 3-0 (1-0 SEC), MSU 2-1 (1-1).
– Series: LSU leads 66-33-3. n 2008: LSU won 34-24 in Baton Rouge. It was Tyson Lee’s first start at QB for MSU.
– Coaches – LSU: Les Miles, 45-11 at LSU (fifth year), 73-32 overall (ninth year); MSU: Dan Mullen, 2-1 (first year).
n Statistical leaders – LSU: QB Jordan Jefferson 47-73-1, 475 yards, 5 TDs; RB Charles Scott 37-164, 0 TDs; RB Keiland Williams 27-164, 2 TDs; LB Harry Coleman 25 tackles, 2 TFL. MSU: QB Tyson Lee 23-38-0, 216 yards, 1 TD; QB Chris Relf 14-25-2, 167 yards, 3 TDs passing, 28-178, 1 TD rushing; RB Anthony Dixon 41-215, 1 TD; LB K.J. Wright 21 tackles, 3 TFL.
– Trends: LSU has beaten State nine consecutive times and won 16 of the last 17 meetings. … Dixon has rushed for 100 total yards in three games against LSU. … MSU is 4 of 9 on third-down conversions in the fourth quarter this season.
– Notes: MSU opponents have only six total return yards off Heath Hutchins’ 16 punts. … State’s Leon Berry is fourth in the SEC with 128.3 all-purpose yards per game. … LSU ranks last in the league in total offense (325.7 ypg). … LSU assistant coaches Brick Haley and Ron Cooper both coached at MSU – Haley (defensive line) from 2004-06, and Cooper (defensive coordinator) in ’03.
– Summing it up: “When you watch them on film, they’ve pretty much dominated all three of their opponents. Maybe not done with the flash or the quality points or any of that stuff, but they’ve dominated all three of their opponents.” – MSU coach Dan Mullen, on LSU
– Prediction: LSU, 23-13.