Coming into the season, it was consensus among Mississippi State fans and media alike that the Defensive Line would be even stronger than 2011. This seemed improbable in April when Fletcher Cox was selected 12th overall in the NFL Draft to the Philadelphia Eagles. But with two of the three starters returning, and a strong recruiting class, it was scary to think how good this defense would be upfront.
Lots was said about the MSU secondary led by four starters returning from last season, but the line was to be the strong point. It turned out being the gaping hole in a defense that took a step back in year two under Defensive Coordinator Chris Wilson and Co-Coordinator Geoff Collins. As a whole, the defense recorded only 19 sacks and 62 tackles for a loss. Here's the kicker. Out of those stats, 12.5 sacks and 27 tfls came from defensive lineman. This was down drastically from last year's 27 sacks which were ninth all-time at State.
Josh Boyd came into the season with 38 starts in 38 games over a three-year span. The senior was said to be ready to take over Cox's spot in the middle and be the anchor upfront to lead this defense to a special season. While no one can question Boyd's leadership, he was unable to reach that potential. And Kaleb Eulls seemed to be playing out of position by necessity all year.
It took him awhile, but the fact that Denico Autry really came on at the end of the year against really good competition is good news for Dawg fans. His Juco stats were incredible but it was ridiculous to believe those would translate to the same in the SEC. He was able to pick up 4.0 sacks and nearly double digit tackles for loss. I would look for him to be a near double digit sack guy next year. I think he'll be All-SEC after a strong off-season.
The Bulldogs got an unexpected boost, however, from a couple of guys that weren't expected to show up near as much on the stat sheet. Sophomore Preston Smith, who was a surprise last season getting playing time as a true freshman, led the team in sacks with 4.5. Also the emergence of true frosh, Ryan Brown was definitely exciting as he looked extremely productive off of the bench.
Shane McCardell did about as much as was expected for the senior who was recruited by Sly Croom. He recorded a couple of sacks on the year and wasn't exactly manhandled so he wasn't bad. Dewayne Cherrington. I mean what can you say. He was a walk-on a year ago at the last minute and was a meat-eater up front. He never really altered the game plan but he did spell some guys.
The major disappointment but not incredibly unexpected, was the fact that Quay Evans and Nick James didn't make the difference we all thought they would. Most of that is attributed to high expectations and most of those unrealistic. Nick James looked like a freshman when he was in there but had his moments. The main question I have, why was Evans not on the field more? From what I understand, Evans had a hard time being motivated in practice and hadn't quite grasped the playbook. But why not take a chance? I remember seeing Evan hawk down a tight end from a stand-still about 10 yards away and holding him from a first down. The kid is a freak. Nearly every play he made it in this season, the offense was in the backfield. Look for him to blow up if he starts to get it going in the head.
So what's next? Well I personally think that the line is going to be really good in the future. This year the Bulldogs lose three guys that have played significant snaps in Boyd, McCardell and Devin Jones. But a lot of snaps were taken by freshmen and sophomore and more are waiting in the wings after their redshirt. Add in a solid line class and they could be back to where they were. We'll see.