Bright spot: Despite loss, MSU defense continues to play well

Mississippi State defensive end Chauncey Rivers, left, closes in on a tackle on Saturday night against LSU.

Staff Writer

When the sun found its home in the western sky in Death Valley this past Saturday night, Mississippi State found that LSU’s Tiger Stadium lived up to its ominous nickname.

The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 19-3 and MSU’s offense returned to Starkville frustrated. However there was one big bright spot down in Baton Rouge for State. The Bulldog defense kept right on being the absolutely dominant unit it has been all year long.

“I thought we came out and played a great game defensively and really fought tooth and nail on every snap,” Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead said.

At this point, it’s probably no humongous surprise that the Bulldogs would have a big night on the defensive side of the football. The group entered this past weekend as the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense allowing just 12.7 points per game on average. MSU also led the Southeastern Conference in total defense prior to kickoff against LSU.

State continued to impress at the home of the Tigers. LSU mustered only 239 yards of total offense. That’s the fewest yards Mississippi State has allowed in an SEC game all season.

Along the way, there were several highlights and standout performers. Cornerback Cam Dantzler returned to his home state of Louisiana and prevented an LSU scoring drive with his interception in the end zone late in the first quarter. It was Dantzler’s second pick this season and the third of his career. This one was incredibly special for Dantzler because of where it happened.

“I knew I was back at home,” Dantzler said. “My dream school (growing up) was always LSU but things happen. It was a blessing though to play in (Tiger Stadium) in front of my family and all my friends.”

Dantzler wasn’t alone in having a memorable night. Three different MSU players recorded 10 tackles – Johnathan Abram, Mark McLaurin and Jeffery Simmons. It marked the first time since 2012 that MSU had three or more players record double-digit tackles in the same game. The 10-tackle showings were career highs for both Abram and Simmons.

Two other Bulldogs set new career highs in tackles. Former Starkville High star Willie Gay Jr. set his new career best with five tackles. Cornerback Maurice Smitherman also set a new benchmark with his five tackles. It was all bittersweet with the loss, but it was nonetheless a good night.

“We were more physical than (LSU’s offense),” Simmons said of MSU’s defense. “We out-physicaled them, especially up front. We created tackles for loss. We knew what they were doing.

“We knew coming in we had to be more physical than them up front, knock them back, get off blocks and just pursue. Our defense did a good job in pursuit of the ball.”

There was really only one blemish on State’s defense – that being the Bulldogs couldn’t come away with the win. MSU’s offensive woes were just too much to overcome.

Simmons says that’s all just part of the game of football. As State’s offense strives to find its footing, the Bulldog defense plans to continue to hold up its end of things and lighten the load for MSU offensively.

“We know it’s frustrating for them,” Simmons said of the offense. “At the same time though, we just tell them, ‘We got you.’

“We’ve all been through a lot of adversity. This team responds well to adversity. We’re just going to move past this game and come back next week at home.”