By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – The mere presence of Tobias Smith can lift spirits, and his play has a pretty good effect, too.
The senior right guard has been in and out of the lineup as Mississippi State’s coaches protect the knee he hurt last year. But he played his best game of the season in Saturday’s 41-31 win over Tennessee, grading out at 93 percent and helping spark the offense in the fourth quarter.
Smith’s efforts earned him the SEC co-offensive lineman of the week honor.
Smith limped off the field in the second quarter after someone rolled up on his leg. He returned for the first play of the four quarter, and LaDarius Perkins ripped off a 20-yard run off Smith’s side.
“I think that play was a huge lift for us,” head coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “Again, I mean, he did his job on the play but everybody else executed as well.”
MSU didn’t score on that drive, but the offense soon regained its footing after a protracted lull to close out the win.
The Bulldogs rushed for 66 yards on 13 carries in the final period, an average of 5.1 yards per carry and the best stretch it had running the ball all night.
State finished with 141 yards on 41 carries, an average of 3.4 yards.
MSU scored all 41 of its points with Smith in the game.
“I never wanted to leave (the game), but I was really starting to feel it the middle of the third quarter,” Smith said. “And I told coach (John) Hevesy I was ready to go, so he gave me the go-ahead to go at the beginning of the fourth.”
While it’s hard to measure the exact impact Smith had on the offensive production, coaches said his return had a noticeable effect on the rest of the team. He’s a team captain who’s always quick with a smile, and that resonates with his teammates.
“He’s got a smile on his face, he’s positive about everything he does, so no matter where it is, when he walks in here today it’s going to be the same way,” said Hevesy, the offensive line coach. “You just get a vibe from him that not every kid has.”
Hevesy said Smith played 49 snaps, equaling his season high against Auburn in Week 2.
After that, he played sparingly during a stretch of games against lesser opponents.
He looked like his old self on Saturday.
“This was the best I’ve played all year,” Smith said. “The Auburn game, I did pretty good, too, but this was the best the whole unit played all year together.”