By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While Mississippi State’s defense respects Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, there is no fear.
Beyond the significant statistical improvement, that’s a sign of how far the Bulldogs have come under first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. They’ve faced big-time players before and had some success against them.
Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, for example, was held to 11 rushing yards in the second half by MSU on Sept. 9. Auburn won, 17-14, but was shut out after halftime.
“Nothing can intimidate us,” Diaz said. “We’ve played a laundry list of guys that all could’ve been invited to New York this year” for the Heisman ceremony.
The focus for MSU in Saturday’s Gator Bowl will be the same as it’s been all year: Stop the run and hit the quarterback. Still, the ability of Robinson to bust open big plays with his legs and his arm has an effect on how the Bulldogs approach this matchup.
Cornerback Corey Broomfield said his role will change slightly because of Robinson.
“Whenever you have a player like that that can change the whole game, it changes everybody’s job,” Broomfield said. “Your focus has to shift to helping out the run game.”
The key word for State this week has been “discipline,” especially after the big plays it gave up to Alabama and Arkansas late in the season – five scoring plays of 45 or more yards, to be exact.
Robinson has eight touchdown passes of 30-plus yards and five TD runs of such length.
“The big key with him is don’t let him get going,” Diaz said. “Once he gets going, I already know the outcome, I don’t have to watch. Get the extra-point team ready.”
Big game in big picture
– A win against Michigan could raise the Bulldogs’ profile, so it’s a big deal to head coach Dan Mullen.
MSU (8-4) already has what could be a called program-defining win against Florida on Oct. 16. This one would be bigger.
“We weren’t very good, and then we became good,” Mullen said. “Our next step is to go from good to great, and that’s a very difficult step. Winning a New Year’s Day bowl game is going to start pushing you in that direction going from good to great.”
Rodriguez focused in
– All the speculation swirling around Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez’s job security hasn’t been able to reach him down here. He said prior to Wednesday’s practice that he hasn’t had trouble shutting out the talk of him possibly being fired after three seasons in Ann Arbor.
“No question at all, it’s been get up, let’s meet, we go practice, meet again,” he said. “We probably meet too much as coaches, but I love this part. That’s one thing that’s nice about this time of year, is that your focus is on the game and the meeting, and we’ve got a lot of meeting time in as coaches.”
He’s gotten some good news this week, too, in the form of receiver Martavious Odoms’ health. The junior from Pahokee, Fla., broke his left foot against Michigan State on Oct. 9, but Rodriguez expects him to play Saturday.
“He’s been able to do everything down here, and not only in the offense, of course, but in the return game,” said Rodriguez. “So it’s going to be a nice lift to have him back.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.