By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Defensive tackle Curtis Virges didn’t play, but MSU’s defensive line didn’t miss a beat in Saturday’s 56-9 trouncing of Jackson State.
Kaleb Eulls, normally a defensive end, started in Virges’ place. That meant Shane McCardell got to start at end. As expected, Denico Autry started at end and Josh Boyd at tackle.
Why didn’t Virges, a sophomore from West Point, play at all?
“They were a spread, throw-all-over-the-place team, so we were a lot of nickel, and he’s more of a run-stopping nose tackle,” head coach Dan Mullen said.
“Obviously Curtis is a big part of what we do from this point on out,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson sad, “because we won’t see a bunch of four- and five-wides as often as we did today.”
MSU fans got a good look at the future of the defensive tackle position, as true freshmen Quay Evans and Nick James both played.
MSU forced three turnovers when those two were on the field, and Evans threw a huge block on Darius Slay’s 52-yard interception return for touchdown.
James forced a fumble that MSU recovered, while Evans had two tackles.
As a team, MSU had two sacks.
Darius Slay, a senior who played at ICC before transferring to MSU last year, makes his big plays count. His interception Saturday was the second of his career, and like his first, it went for six points.
Against Georgia last year, Slay took one 72 yards to the house.
Slay also got it done on special teams, partially blocking a JSU punt in the first quarter. He also had two tackles.
Senior right guard Tobias Smith, a captain and key cog on MSU’s offensive line, played the first series of the game and then sat the rest out. He’s coming off an ACL injury suffered early last season.
Mullen said the plan was to get Smith in for one series, then put in redshirt freshman Justin Malone.
“Justin was a little nervous in his face, so we said, let’s leave him in there, because we don’t need him to be nervous after tonight, because after tonight it’s an SEC game next game,” Mullen said. “So if he’s got to be in there next week, it can’t be any more nerves; we’ve gotta go.”
Three Bulldogs did not play because of indefinite suspensions. Defensive tackle P.J. Jones (Tupelo), cornerback Jamerson Love (Aberdeen) and receiver Ricco Sanders were all benched for unspecified violations of team rules.
MSU was leading 14-0 when it put together a nine-play, 52-yard drive that took 4:11 off the clock. LaDarius Perkins ran in from 1 yard out to give MSU the early breathing room it was seeking.
Three – MSU forced three turnovers, two of them interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. State also recovered a fumble.
“We have so much work to win next week, and that’s the thing we’re focusing on – how can we improve.” – MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson
State opens SEC play against Western Division foe Auburn at 11 a.m. (ESPN). The Bulldogs have lost four in a row to the Tigers, including 41-34 loss last season.