By Brad Locke | NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Is Fletcher Cox lifting the rest of the defensive line, or vice versa?
Does it really matter?
To Mississippi State, the results are what’s important. Cox, who had 3.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.0 sacks in Saturday’s win over Kentucky, has continued his ascent toward elite status. A lot of that’s just due to the junior tackle’s talent, but his fellow linemen have also picked up their play.
“I don’t think it’s just Fletcher playing great, I think it’s the improvement of the other guys that’s allowing Fletcher to get more one-on-ones in there,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “Before you could just say, hey, we’ve got to stop Fletcher out there on the field.”
Not any more. Coaches were high on the play of ends Kaleb Eulls and Sean Ferguson on Saturday, and tackle Josh Boyd has been playing well lately.
Cox made most of his big plays against Kentucky in the first half, and eventually the Wildcats adjusted their blocking schemes. That left the door open for the other linemen to make plays.
Ferguson had six tackles, while Boyd had a sack and 2.0 TFLs. Eulls, a redshirt freshman, had only one tackle but looked better to his coaches.
“It opened up for them big time,” Cox said. “I told (Boyd), ‘Your time will come.’ It finally came.”
While the on-field relationship between Cox and his teammates is a symbiotic one, off the field it’s clear who’s motivating who. Cox is a film addict, and in fact had just finished a film session with Boyd before speaking with the media Monday.
Cox said he has to “set a standard for myself first,” and his coaches say he’s doing just that.
“He’s definitely motivating them,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “You sit back and you watch some of his guys, like Josh Boyd, guys who came in with him, Sean Ferguson, who’s a year older – they’re seeing the benefits of his hard work, his preparation, how hard he practices, and the carry-over that he’s bringing to the games.
“And he’s really getting a lot of those other guys excited about playing, too.”