Mississippi State’s 2017 Super Bulldog Weekend consisted of a new-look Mississippi State defense and an amazing performance by Brent Rooker.
The Spring Game showed fans the first glimpses of what Todd Grantham will install in his defense. The result? A fast, athletic defense that swarmed to the ball and made life hard for Nick Fitzgerald.
Todd Grantham has shown that he knows how to improve defenses during his first season on the job. After spending some time in the NFL game, Grantham took over Georgia’s defense in 2010 and quickly made the Bulldogs an elite defense. Georgia’s turnover total rose from 12 to 26 in Grantham’s first season and landed inside the top 20 nationally until his final season with the ‘Dawgs.
At Louisville, Grantham’s aggressive nature helped the Cardinals become one of the nation’s best at creating turnovers, forcing the 11th most in his first season. Under Grantham, Gerrod Holliman won the Thorpe and the Cardinals consistently produced some of the best secondary play across the nation.
The Maroon and White game showed just how Grantham wants to use his defense in Starkville. The aggressive defense flew all around the field Saturday afternoon, forcing Nick Fitzgerald to throw four interceptions during the course of the game. Yes, it’s just a scrimmage after all, but it was impressive to see just how much of a difference the swagger that the defense played with. Passes were tipped, open-field tackles were being made, and five interceptions were recorded.
Newcomers Steal the Show
Jamal Peters, Mark McLaurin, and Brandon Bryant return, but it was the newcomers that stole the show, especially in the secondary. Redshirt freshman corner Cameron Dantlzer opened the eyes of everyone with his big performance. Wearing the number 13, Dantzler resembled 2012 Thorpe winner Johnthan Banks as he grabbed two interceptions, including taking one back for six. There have been raving reviews about Dantzler’s skills, so Saturday’s performance should only help the young corner push for significant playing time in the fall.
Furthermore, former Michigan and EMCC standout Brian Cole put on a show. Cole flew all over the field all afternoon, making big hits, reading plays, and recording a pick six of his own during the scrimmage. Cole’s aggressive play was put to display all throughout Saturday. In addition to both Dantzler and Cole, Johnathan Abram impressed. The former Georgia defensive back was eager to make his name known. Aside from an unnecessary hit that ended the spring game prematurely, Abram was always near the ball and showed flashes of what he can bring to the defensive backfield this upcoming fall.
Deion Pope and Montez Sweat, JUCO transfers from Co-Lin, add depth and talent to a Mississippi State defensive line that already features All-SEC Freshman performer Jeffery Simmons. The 6-foot-4, 280 pound Pope was able to make his presence felt throughout the scrimmage, by putting pressure on the quarterback and even recording an interception. Sweat, a player that many inside the MSU program believe to have a high ceiling, put his pass-rushing talent to display during the big scrimmage. The 6-foot-6 freakish athlete has all the potential in the world to make a splash this season.
With a fast and aggressive secondary, Grantham will have the tools needed to greatly improve Mississippi State’s defense. A defensive line headlined by Simmons, Pope, and Sweat has the ability to make Offensive Coordinators sweat. The supremely talented linebacker corps features Leo Lewis, Gerri Green, JT Gray, Dezz Harris, Erroll Thompson, and incoming Army All-American freshman Willie Gay. Featuring talent, depth, and swagger, the Mississippi State defense will be fun to watch.
The Run Game Impresses
It’s no secret that Dan Mullen has loved to run the football during his time in Starkville. Anthony Dixon, Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins, and Josh Robinson all put together impressive careers under Mullen. Dual-threat quarterbacks such as Chris Relf, Dak Prescott, and now Nick Fitzgerald adds a completely different element to Mullen’s offense.
Aeris Williams emerged as the primary back during the latter portion of last season with big performances against Texas A&M and Ole Miss. With Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway both graduated, the Bulldogs are looking for another back to take carries.
Insert Nick Gibson. Gibson, a sophomore, stole the show for the Mississippi State offense during the Maroon and White game. The Pinson Valley native rushed for 17 carries and 108 yards during the scrimmage, showing flashes of what he can add to Mississippi State run game. A potential three-headed monster featuring Fitzgerald, Williams, and Gibson could give Defensive Coordinators headaches all season long.
With Fitzgerald working with a new crop of receivers featuring Reggie Todd, Jesse Jackson, and the return of Donald Gray, look for the Bulldogs to lean on the run game to set the tone early and often throughout games over the course of the season. 4-star signee Kylin Hill is coming in the fall, and Keith Mixon will surely have the ball in his hands, but Nick Gibson needs to carry his momentum from the spring to the fall.
Brent Rooker is ... Amazing
There are not enough adjectives to describe just how impressive Brent Rooker has been this season.
Mississippi State took 2 of 3 games over a top-ten team in Kentucky this weekend, largely thanks to their superstar phenom Brent Rooker. On Saturday, Rooker put together a performance for the ages.
In the first inning, Rooker got on base, but that turned out to be the least of Kentucky’s worries. In the second inning of the game, the best player in college baseball smashed a home run on the first pitch he saw, giving the Bulldogs the lead for good. He was not done. Rooker slammed a homer just two innings later. In addition to those two long balls, Kentucky still pitched to him as he went yard yet again in one of the best individual performances in a very, very long time.
With his two dingers against Florida International and his unworldly performance over the weekend, Rooker had a week for the ages.
Rooker hit .625 (10-for-16) with nine runs scored, one double, six home runs, 13 RBIs and five walks in addition to being hit by pitch three times. He notched 29 total bases for a 1.813 slugging percentage and a .750 on-base percentage and helped lead the Bulldogs to a series win vs. No. 8 Kentucky.
Rooker leads the SEC in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, hits, RBIs, doubles, home runs, total bases and stolen bases.
If that is not impressive enough, Rooker is tops in the entire nation with his 56 RBIs, 1.008 slugging percentage, and his 126 total bases.
Simply put it, Brent Rooker is the best player in college baseball right now.
Mississippi State (23-12, 8-4) is currently tied for first in the conference prior to traveling to Columbia for a weekend series with the Gamecocks (21-11, 7-5).