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By LEE ADAMS
Starkville native and UAB running back Pat Shed gets one more chance against his hometown team.
Mississippi State travels to Birmingham, Ala. on Saturday to take on the Blazers, and Shed knows a little bit about the next opponent.
Shed, who played at Starkville High School and then two years at East Mississippi Community College, will face the team he grew up watching for the second time. Last year, Shed and Blazers had MSU on the ropes in Starkville, but the Bulldogs were able to pick up the 29-24 win.
Even though the Blazer lost last year, Shed is ready to face his hometown team again, and with the game being televised on Sports South, he knows he will have a lot of his hometown watching on Saturday.
"I'm looking forward to playing against them again," said Shed. "I know they will be a good competitive team and it's another chance for me to play in front of the home crowd again."
Shed rushed for only 69 yards in last year's game, and was unable to find the end zone. However, MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson feels Shed is one of the Blazers top offensive threats.
"We have to locate him every snap and know where he's at," said Wilson. "He's probably, if not their best player, he's one of their top three players and he creates mismatches on the perimeter, catches the ball out of the backfield and he's a physical runner inside. We have to know where he is at all times."
The Bulldogs have taken notice of Shed's ability and the fact that they are putting eyes on him every play makes Shed feel respected.
"It means a lot to me and it shows that I am a factor in our offense," said Shed. "That's any good player though. Anytime you know a defense is keying in on you, it just makes you work even harder and do extra, because if you just play normal and go through the motions, you're not going to be able to make any kind of plays."
Wilson isn't the only MSU coach who has taken notice of Shed's ability.
"Pretty dynamic guy, not a real big guy, but can play physical," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "He's real quick and can make cuts to make you miss. He can start to the left, plant one foot in the ground and then he's around the right end before you can blink an eye. We're going to have to contain him at all times by being sound on defense."
Shed has earned the attention that MSU is giving him, as he set schools records last year. His 47 receptions were the most ever by a Blazer running back and his game against East Carolina last year gave him the single game record for most all purpose yards with 309 yards. His performance last year also earned him a spot on the Doak Walker Award and Paul Hornung Award pre-season watch list.
Being on the watch list for those two awards is an honor and Shed is happy to be on the lists.
"At first, it felt pretty good because I had something to reach for," said Shed. "I know I'm going against the top backs in the NCAA, so I know I have to just work extra hard and put in the hard work that got me there and become a better player."
The 2011 season got off to a slow start for Shed as he had to sit out the first week due to a sports hernia injury, but has been on the up ever since as he tries to get back into football shape.
"It's slowly coming back but I'll get there," said Shed. "It's a process that I have to continue to work with and just forget that I had the injury and be better than I was before."
Since coming back, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound back has rushed for 128 yards on 37 carries and has found the end zone once. He is also getting work in the passing game just like last year as he has 13 receptions for 76 yards. Most of his yards came during UAB's 28-23 loss to East Carolina in week three, where he ran for 59 yards and his lone touchdown and had 11 catches for 62 yards.
The senior also gets work on the kick return team and last year he had 738 return yards, helping him to finish the season No. 3 in the nation in all-purpose yards average with 177.1.
With this year's showdown with the Bulldogs, Shed and his Blazer get to play host.
"Anytime you got home-field advantage you think you have the upper hand," said Shed.
Home-field advantage can mean a great deal but Shed isn't going to rely on it as he knows hard work is what it takes to compete and win football games. Even though he's going against the team he grew up just miles away from, he isn't focused on anything but the MSU defense.
"Every day I study film and study my opponent," said Shed. "That way if they send this kind of blitz or a different scenario, I'll know hot to react to it. Basically I'm just staying focused so I can have a good game against them."