Mississippi State defense preps for D-Rob
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State's defense was among the best in the Southeastern Conference this season, and one of the few that actually slowed Heisman-winning quarterback Cameron Newton.
So if the Bulldogs can contain Newton, they can surely handle Michigan's Denard Robinson, right?
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said both are fantastic players, but comparing the two isn't particularly useful as the 21st-ranked Bulldogs (8-4) prepare to face Michigan (7-5) on Jan. 1 in the Gator Bowl.
"I think (Robinson) is quicker, faster -- a little more elusive," Mullen said. "He doesn't have the size to run between the tackles, but he's a good physical player. What makes him dangerous is when he gets into the open field -- see you later."
The Bulldogs held Newton to 136 yards passing and 70 yards rushing in Auburn's 17-14 victory on Sept. 9. The quarterback struggled to find running room the entire game as MSU swarmed him, using three or four players to drag his 6-foot-6, 250-pound body to the ground.
Though that relative success against such a talented player might breed some confidence, Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said Auburn and Michigan run very different versions of the spread offense and Robinson is used far more as a runner.
Robinson ran for 1,643 yards (136.9 yards per game) and 14 touchdowns for the Wolverines, who averaged 34.3 points per game. He topped 100 yards rushing in nine out of 12 games, and topped the 200-mark twice. Listed at 6-feet tall and 193 pounds, he's much smaller than Newton, but also much faster.
Mullen said Robinson can run "a legit 4.3" in the 40-yard dash. Then the coach broke into a wry smile, thinking back to his days on the recruiting trail.
"I know that because I timed him at a camp when he was in high school," Mullen said.
The Bulldogs have used shifty freshman Jameon Lewis, who is redshirting this season, to simulate Robinson during practice over the past few weeks. Diaz says Lewis has some good moves, but there's no comparing him to what the Bulldogs will see on New Year's Day.
"It's no secret who's going to run the ball, and we've got to be ready to go," Diaz said. "I think our guys feel good about their run defense, but boy, if we make a mistake -- look out."
Diaz said one similarity between stopping Newton and Robinson is that gang tackling is a must.
"We can't let there be a lot of one-on-one tackles with Denard Robinson -- that's playing Russian roulette," Diaz said.
Sophomore cornerback Johnthan Banks said Robinson is impressive on film, but the Bulldogs are used to going against running quarterbacks. On top of their success against Newton, MSU also contained Mississippi dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli in a 31-23 win to cap the regular season.
They see one every day in practice as well -- Chris Relf rushed for 683 yards and four touchdowns this season for the Bulldogs.
"It's all about getting your eyes in the right place and never taking a play off," Banks said. "Our coaches have a great plan in place. We have the athletes to handle everything. Now we just have to be disciplined and do what we're supposed to do. If we can do that, I have no doubt we'll win."
The Bulldogs had a Tuesday morning practice, and then Mullen released the players until Dec. 26, when the team is scheduled to report in Jacksonville, Fla. It's the first bowl for Mississippi State since 2007 and only the second in a decade.
"This is all like a dream come true," Banks said. "You dream of playing big-time games like this against teams like Michigan. We really want to take advantage of this opportunity."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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