By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Don’t believe the numbers.
If anything, they’re inversely proportionate to the progress Pernell McPhee has made in his second and final year as a defensive end at Mississippi State. But here they are: In 12 games, he’s made 2.0 sacks and 9.5 tackles-for-loss.
Those stats don’t exactly jump off the page, especially when cast against his 2009 numbers of 5.0 sacks and 12.0 TFLs. But it’s a narrow line of thinking that reduces McPhee’s improvement and effectiveness to a couple of figures that can be easily taken out of context.
The NFL scouts don’t need those stats to know what they see in McPhee, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound senior.
“He’s a guy that they’ve been watching all year and ask about all year,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “I think what shows up on film with McPhee – and really a lot of credit goes to (defensive line coach) Chris Wilson on this – is they’re finding him to be more of a technician now. They really see that he’s playing with a lot better technique and fundamentals and learning how to become a defensive end.”
One key to McPhee’s improvement has been his adherence to Diaz’s precept of having “good eyes.”
“I train my eyes a lot now,” McPhee said, “because if you’ve got good eyes, that means you’re a good football player.”
And as Diaz is quick to remind scouts, McPhee is still relatively young to the position. He didn’t even play high school football until his senior year, and when he arrived at Itawamba Community College three years ago, he was a mere 218 pounds.
“It’s not like he’s been walking the Earth as an SEC (defensive) end since the time he was in ninth grade,” Diaz said. “So there’s still a lot of upside. I wish we had him for another year.”
McPhee’s progress can be measured in other ways.
He leads MSU in quarterback hurries, with 12 (the next closest is Fletcher Cox with four). The defensive coaches also track how often a player touches or hits a quarterback, and while he didn’t have the numbers handy, Diaz said McPhee is among the leaders in that category.
A little contact can go a long way.
“If you hit the quarterback enough times, whether you’re sacking him or just hitting him, usually it’ll end up working in your favor,” said Diaz.
Still, nothing fires up a guy like McPhee more than putting a quarterback on the ground before he can unload the ball. The first time he did that this season was the 11th game, when he dragged Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett (6-6, 238) to the turf. He got another sack the next week against Ole Miss.
McPhee also had 3.5 of his tackles-for-loss in the final two games.
“Coach had told me that he was going to set me up some opportunities to get sacks,” McPhee said, “so he was going to start calling some defenses that free me up more and have me with more one-on-one blocks with the offensive guys.”
Diaz said there were five or six “easy missed sacks” for McPhee throughout the season, plays on which he simply whiffed or a teammate didn’t stay in his pass rush lanes long enough to funnel the QB toward McPhee.
So those two sacks in the last two games were extra special for him.
“The sacks, sometimes they happen, sometimes they don’t,” Diaz said. “We’re just happy that he was rewarded at the end of the year, because I know it meant a lot to him.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571