By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Fletcher Cox has broken through the wall, and he’s breaking through offensive lines now, too.
Mississippi State’s junior defensive tackle has been trying to regain the form that made him a preseason second-team All-SEC selection. After being suspended for the season opener at Memphis, Cox has been taking steps each week, and he has his best performance of the season in Saturday’s 21-3 over UAB.
Cox made a career-high seven tackles – five of them solo – and was named the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week. He credited a lot of film study as well as practicing “for a purpose,” and he added that he’s “got my groove back.”
The coaches agree it was his best showing of the season.
“We kind of discussed playing at his best level going into this last half stretch,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “He took it to heart, and he really showed up. He played sideline to sideline, which I knew he was athletic, but the key thing that stood out with him was how physical he was.
“He played physical, and he really played fast.”
Cox has made 23 tackles and 2.0 tackles-for-loss this season, and MSU needs him in top form because of his experience, versatility and sheer talent level. The Bulldogs host No. 15 South Carolina this weekend, a team with a good offensive balance and dangerous weapons all over the field.
Cox needs to keep taking steps forward.
“He has to have a dominant performance for us every single week,” head coach Dan Mullen said.
Not making the grade
While the offensive line play improved in the second half of the UAB game – that’s when MSU scored all 21 of its points – coaches didn’t call it a significant improvement. James Carmon gave a spark when he entered at left tackle, but line coach John Hevesy said nobody graded out as a champion.
“We didn’t have as may mistakes and made a couple more plays in the second half was the big difference,” Mullen said. “We still could have been a lot better in the second half.”
As the Bulldogs continue patching together their offensive line, it’s not a matter of missed assignments, according to Hevesy. It’s more of a mindset.
“It’s finishing blocks, competing, playing hard, playing pad level. … They needed a little motivation at halftime to get them going,” Hevesy said. “Had to figure out, whether it’s they feel sorry for themselves or thinking they’re too cool for it, go play. It’s a game, Saturday’s payday, go get it.”
Griffin gets in
After being cleared to play for several weeks, redshirt freshman tailback Nick Griffin finally saw action at the end of Saturday’s game. He carried four times for 25 yards before the clock ran out.
Griffin, who suffered an ACL injury in the spring, is a candidate to take over for Vick Ballard next season, so getting him some snaps was important. The 6-foot, 215-pounder said he wasn’t worried about his knee and just wants to keep getting opportunities.
“My teammates and all my coaches, they kept me motivated and told me to stay hungry, and my time will come, whenever that may be,” Griffin said.
Starting defensive end Sean Ferguson missed the UAB game with tendinitis in his knee; Mullen said Monday the senior is “day-to-day.” Trevor Stigers started in his place last week and made two tackles.