November 8, 2017 9:53:49 AM
STARKVILLE -- On a second down against UMass, the Mississippi State defensive front was aligned in no special way: Jeffery Simmons directly over the center with Montez Sweat as the end to his right, Braxton Hoyett as the tackle to his left with Gerri Green outside of him. At the last second before the snap, Simmons shuffled to his right.
Simmons only moved a couple of feet, but that couple of feet was all MSU needed to wreak havoc on the UMass offensive line.
That shift put Simmons and Sweat on the same side of the line, which creates a disastrous situation for an opposing offensive line to react to. With Simmons and Sweat in the top 20 in the Southeastern Conference in tackles for a loss, MSU's opponents aren't thrilled about leaving one blocker to handle either of them, but putting them both of the same side of the line forces that exact scenario.
MSU's best way of tackling opposing offenses in the backfield is by putting that duo next to each other and No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 4-0 SEC, No. 2 College Football Playoff) can expect to see plenty of it as it travels to No. 18 MSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC, No. 16 CFP) 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at Davis Wade Stadium.
"That's how our defense is formed," Simmons said. "We're going to be on the same side most of the time."
MSU doesn't always get to dictate that matchup: there are times in MSU defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's system that the alignment is a reaction to the offensive formation, thus Sweat, Green and others have to line up on certain sides of the ball to fit what it thinks is coming. Still, Grantham is not blind to the power of the Sweat-Simmons duo and has packages in which they are beside each other no matter what.
"At the end of the day, that's what you try to do defensively: we try to get our guys 1-on-1s with guys that can win those matchups," Grantham said. "Any time you get two players like that together that are good players, have worked hard and have been productive for us, I think it's a good thing."
As Sweat put it: "I love playing beside Jeffery. He's going to knock anybody in front of him back, so it makes his job easier and it makes my job easier. Sometimes he accumulates a double team and it gets me a 1-on-1, but on the other hand I might get a double team and he gets a 1-on-1. It goes both ways."
More times than not that means Simmons getting the double-team and Sweat getting a single blocker, but that's not bad news for Simmons; just as often as a double-team on Simmons has led to Sweat sacks, it's led just as many times to the quarterback reacting to Sweat crashing the pocket by running right into Simmons.
MSU benefits from either occurrence, but there's more than just team aspirations on the line between those two.
"Sweat jokes around all the time: who's going to get the sack, who's going to get player of the game," Simmons said. "We compete, and that's something our defense values. We're trying to beat each other to ball."
Regardless of the winner on a given snap, both are confident that when they are next to each other, one of them is getting to the ball. That may be more challenging for Sweat this week than most other as Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams is considered one of the top tackles in either potential draft class, if he were to leave early for the 2019 Draft or finish his career before the 2020 Draft.
With Simmons by his side, everything is possible.
"It's a big level of excitement anytime I see Jeff beside me. It's a bigger feeling that one of us is about to go make this play," Sweat said. "We might give each other that eye, slap hands or something like that, but you can tell the confidence that's out there with us."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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