What do Johnthan Banks, Cameron Lawrence, Chad Bumphis and Marcus Green all have in common?
They are all senior members of the Mississippi State football team that contributed positive plays to Saturday's 28-10 victory over the Auburn Tigers.
For any squad to have a successful season, senior leadership is key. It appears after two games that the Bulldogs are solid in that area.
MSU coach Dan Mullen knows how much the play of the seniors means for the rest of the season.
"We will go as far as the seniors take us," Mullen said. "They can't just look around to see who's going to step up and make plays anymore. They've got to do it."
Banks has been steadily improving for the Bulldogs ever since leaving East Webster High School and has developed the confidence it takes to be successful in the Southeastern Conference.
"I always thought we could compete with the best teams in the SEC," Banks said. "I'm just trying to help this team be the best it can be."
Banks had a pair of interceptions and six tackles for MSU, while Lawrence led the Bulldogs with 10 tackles, Bumphis had a 13-yard touchdown catch in the second half and Green had two scoring receptions.
It's good to see the Bulldogs using the tight end as part of the offensive scheme. Junior quarterback Tyler Russell likes the weapon that Green has become.
"He's doing well right now," Russell said. "At practice, he may have a drop or two. I tell him not to worry about it because you are going to catch it in the game. I have so much confidence in Marcus Green to go out there and make plays. He showed it (Saturday)."
The MSU defense completely shut down Auburn for three quarters. At the end of the third quarter, the Tigers only had 90 yards of total offense.
The secondary of the Bulldogs was especially active as Banks, another senior Corey Broomfield and junior Nickoe Whitley combined for 20 tackles.
The energy that Lawrence, Banks and the other seniors show seems to be rubbing off on the rest of the team.
Lawrence said the defense is at it best when everyone is working together.
"We've got leaders," Lawrence said. "The whole defense is leaders. It's not just one guy and not just me and John. We've got young guys like Benardrick McKinney, a redshirt freshman, that's being a leader. That's huge for us."
With the victory against Auburn, MSU ends a 12-game losing streak in SEC openers. The last time the Bulldogs won their first conference game in a season was a 17-0 decision over South Carolina in 1999.
MSU also ended a four-game losing streak to Auburn.
For Bulldog seniors like offensive lineman Tobias Smith from Columbus, finally getting a victory over the Tigers was sweet.
"This is a game that has been marked on my calendar for a long time and since last year," Smith said. "We've matured and it really helps us. To have this game really sets the tone because now we have people gunning for us."
The only shaky moment for MSU came early in the second half when Onterio McCalebb returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to put Auburn in front 10-7. The Bulldogs responded with 21 unanswered points.
It was enough to shake the Tigers' confidence.
"It was mind-boggling," Auburn sophomore defensive back Jermaine Whitehead of Greenwood said. "We thought this was a game we could take. We missed a lot of opportunities out there."
Beating Auburn was certainly something MSU needed to do if having a good run in the league is achieved.
As the Bulldogs win, the games get bigger, bigger and bigger.
According to Mullen, so does the monkey on his back.
"By November, I could have an 800-pound gorilla on my back," Mullen said.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.
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