By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Although just a redshirt freshman, Benardrick McKinney has taken on a major role in the middle of No. 19 Mississippi State’s defense.
The middle linebacker had a career game Saturday against Kentucky, recording 12 tackles and two pass break-ups in a 27-14 win. That performance earned McKinney the SEC co-freshman of the week honor, which he shared with Texas Aamp&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Over the past three games, McKinney has made 28 tackles, and he now leads the team with 36 total.
“He’s given us what we thought he would be as far as instinctive, what he’s able to do in the run game,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “And the one thing you feel great about with Benardrick is you don’t have to draw him a road map. He has really good instincts, and the more he plays, just the better he gets.”
McKinney has started the last two games ahead of Ferlando Bohanna, and he helps senior weakside linebacker Cam Lawrence direct traffic and get play calls in.
“We’re putting a lot of onus on Bendardrick and a lot of faith in him to do what he’s been doing,” linebackers coach Geoff Collins said.
McKinney is fine with it, and his production reflects that.
“I’m still learning, but the scheme, I’m getting more comfortable with the plays,” he said. “I’m learning why we run this play on their offensive plays, so I’m getting more comfortable.”
Nick Griffin’s name got a lot of mention leading into the season, but not much since it began.
The sophomore is still listed as the second-string tailback behind LaDarius Perkins, but of MSU’s four tailbacks, Griffin has the fewest carries with 11 (for 47 yards). That’s even fewer than backup quarterback Dak Prescott’s 16 totes.
It might be that Griffin hasn’t fully recovered – mentally, at least – from the knee injury he suffered in the spring of 2011.
“Nick is still coming back from that injury and still, again, just I guess totally getting himself back into the form of it all again,” running backs coach Greg Knox said.
Derrick Milton has 22 carries for 137 yards, while Josh Robinson has 25 for 122.
MSU hopes to have tight end Malcolm Johnson back this week.
The sophomore, who’s been out all season with a pectoral injury, traveled with the team to Kentucky last weekend but didn’t play. His return could provide a big boost to the offense.
Defensive lineman Devin Jones (shoulder), who missed the Kentucky game, is also probable.