Seeing Sweat: Pass-rushing reputation of MSU defensive end continues to grow

Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat has his eye on the opposing offense during an earlier game this season.

Staff Writer

Just a couple of years ago, Montez Sweat was relatively unknown.

The Mississippi State defensive end came to the Bulldogs as one of the nation’s top junior college pass rushers and even had a year of Division I experience at Michigan State, but few, if any, had Sweat pegged as potentially one day being a high National Football League Draft choice. Yet that is now seemingly the path Sweat is on.

Sweat can’t simply fade into the background these days. He’s quickly becoming one of the best defensive players to ever put on an MSU jersey. Just this week, he’s added to what’s becoming a growing list of honors. On Monday, Sweat was chosen as the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week. He then followed that up on Tuesday by being picked the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week and Bednarik Player of the Week for getting three sacks, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in MSU’s 23-9 win over Auburn last Saturday.

“It’s definitely an honor, but it’s more just driving me to keep on going,” Sweat said of his accolades after MSU’s football practice on Tuesday.

Just how good has Sweat been of late? Historically good. His SEC weekly honor given on Monday made him a five-time winner. That’s tied for the most SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week awards for one individual ever. He’s won the honor twice this season as he’s racked up an SEC-leading 7.5 sacks. That total ranks second nationally. Sweat ranks second in the SEC in tackles for loss with 10, a total that sits at 12th nationally.
“He’s an extremely talented player and he plays extremely hard,” MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald said of Sweat. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”

Fitzgerald can somewhat empathize with what opposing quarterbacks see when facing Sweat. Fitzgerald has gotten the chance to go against Sweat head-on, particularly in spring practices and preseason camp. He says it’s no surprise at all to him to see Sweat coming up big time for the Bulldogs. Sweat’s dominance also has a bonus effect for Fitzgerald and the rest of State’s offense as the unit knows it’ll see no better lineman on game days.

“Luckily, I have the green (no-contact) jersey on in practice, so I don’t ever have to feel (Sweat),” Fitzgerald said. “But to go against our defensive line and Sweat coming off the edge in particular, it gets you ready for anyone’s defensive line. You have to be ready to step up and move in the pocket very quickly. As we all know, that’s a very disruptive group. They have a lot of quarterback pressures and quarterback hurries and a lot of sacks.

"Going against them in practice, obviously it helps me in getting the ball out fast and moving in the pocket, and it benefits our offensive line so much to go against such high-caliber guys every rep.”
Bulldogs head coach Joe Moorhead echoes Fitzgerald’s thoughts. As an offensive-minded coach, Moorhead likes to move the football.

Moorhead says Sweat almost always makes that a difficult task.

“It sometimes can be a little bit of a pain because you have a hard time getting a pass off sometimes, particularly in spring ball early on,” Moorhead said. “But I think iron sharpens iron. When you have the opportunity to go against guys like Montez, Jeffery (Simmons) and all those other guys (on the defensive line), it’s like sink or swim. Guys have to get get better or they’re going to get embarrassed. Going against the quality of player like Montez and those guys has really helped develop us up front.”

Sweat takes pride in his work. He’s glad to be a central figure of a Mississippi State defense that leads the nation in scoring defense (12.7 points allowed per game). However he gives a ton of credit to his teammates for helping him earn all the recognition he’s gotten of late. He says he’s often thanking Simmons in particular.

“I thank him almost every game,” Sweat said of Simmons. “He allows me to get those one-on-ones. (Opponents) can’t double-team two people on our defensive line. It’s not going to wind up too good for them.”

Sweat also gives praise to the rest of Mississippi State’s defense. Yes, he likes getting rewarded for his good work, but Sweat seemingly feels the biggest reward comes when the Bulldogs work as a unit and earn wins.

“You could say I’m a big part of it, but it’s definitely a team effort,” Sweat said. “Everybody has to do their job. If somebody doesn’t do their job, then it’s not going to work out.”