First test a big one for banged up Bulldogs offensive line

Updated: August 27, 2003, 3:17 AM ET

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State's offensive line was a ragtag unit last season, beset by injuries, inexperience and ineffectiveness.

If the Bulldogs are to have a turnaround season after two straight three-win campaigns, they'll need a drastic improvement from the big guys up front.

Mississippi State allowed 32 sacks last season and ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference in rushing at 119.3 yards per game.

"We don't so much have something to prove as we just want to get out and try to do our jobs and do our parts," center Blake Jones said Monday. "If we do our part and we do what we have worked on doing out here, then that'll take care of itself. We'll show we're a good offensive line, because we already know we're a good offensive line."

But again, there'll be a short-handed offensive line when the season starts Saturday night against Oregon and its stellar and huge defensive front.

Bulldogs starting guards Brad Weathers and Johnny Wadley are both out this week with injuries. Chris McNeil and Otis Riddley will start in their place.

McNeil, a sophomore, started three games last season before injuring his foot. Riddley is a redshirt freshman who made the transition from defense to offense last spring.

At tackle, promising sophomore Richard Burch will be in charge of protecting quarterback Kevin Fant's blind side. Burch started two games last season before breaking his leg. He appears to be fully recovered. The steadiest lineman is right tackle David Stewart. Young backup tackles James Redmond, a redshirt freshman, and Donovan Davis, a freshman, have potential.

"When we first started, we felt we could go two-deep and play a lot of guys," Bulldogs coach Jackie Sherrill said. "Right now, we are not going to be able to play a lot of the guys that we hoped to play."

The Ducks had one of the worst pass defenses in the nation last season due in large part to a porous secondary. The cornerbacks remain questionable.

Up front, though, Oregon looks sturdy, led by 345-pound tackle Haloti Ngata and 309-pound end Igor Olshansky, who has been moved outside this season. Junior Siavii, a 330-pounder, takes Olshansky's place at right tackle. Right end Devan Long, a relative lightweight at 261, rounds out the line.

Weathers and Wadley have been sidelined throughout most of the preseason, so at least McNeil and Riddley have had plenty of work with the first unit.

"I've played a lot of snaps with the other guards," Jones said. "I don't think there is a problem with cohesiveness."

The offensive line's play the past two seasons prompted Sherrill to make a coaching change. He hired former Middle Tennessee assistant and Delta State head coach Steve Campbell to help fix the problem.

Campbell said there's no secret formula or way to hide a weakness in the line.

"There's never been an offense drawn up where you don't have to block people," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index