STARKVILLE — Mississippi State sophomore safety Nickoe Whitley will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in his left foot.
The injury occurred in the first quarter Saturday of MSU’s 24-7 loss to then-No. 4 Alabama at Davis Wade Stadium.
Whitley, who started seven games this season, finished the season with 34 tackles. He was second on the team with four interceptions. The game against Alabama was Whitley’s fifth start in the past six games. He came off the bench in the game against the University of Tennessee-Martin.
MSU coach Dan Mullen tried Monday in his media conference to downplay the loss of Whitley, who is arguably the team’s hardest hitting defensive back on the team. Whitley’s absence could be key at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (WCBI) when MSU faces the No. 6 University of Arkansas in Little Rock., Ark. The Razorbacks have the Southeastern Conference’s top passing offense. Mullen said the secondary will rely on seniors Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner.
“You still have two senior safeties that have been starting, so those two are going to have to carry the bulk of the load,” Mullen said.
MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said reserves Darius Slay, a junior, and former Aberdeen High School standout Jamerson Love, a redshirt freshman, will be used against Arkansas’ multi-wide receiver packages.
“Nickoe is a big part of what we do,” Wilson said. “It’s a great opportunity for our guys in the back end to step in. That’s the key. If you want to talk about championship defense, that’s all about depth.”
Relf’s injury day-to-day; Maye’s suspension status unclear
Mullen said senior quarterback Chris Relf likely would be restricted from practice Monday after suffering concussion symptoms Saturday night against Alabama.
Relf was knocked out of the game in the first half after he was inserted in a red-zone offensive package.
Relf earned his first start Saturday since playing in the first half of MSU’s come-from-behind 21-3 victory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“Chris is going to be day-to-day with a concussion, so we’ll see,” Mullen said. “I doubt he’ll practice today, but he’ll be day-to-day throughout the week.”
Relf, who is third all-time in school history in pass efficiency and fifth all-time in touchdown passes, has played a situational role mostly when MSU has the football inside its 30-yard line.
Mullen insisted Monday the quarterback rotation. He said he feels that position is like any other position on the field.
“You (think it’s a unique position), I don’t,” Mullen said. “Vick Ballard gets the bulk of the reps at tailback, but LaDarius Perkins comes in and spells him. It’s the same situation. We treat it the same and practice it the same. The kids treat it the same. Within the program it’s the same. You guys treat it differently, so I don’t know how to answer your question. That’s how we do it. I’ve done it before. Call Tim Tebow-Chris Leak (at Florida). That’s how they treated it. Andy Shan-Josh Harris (at Bowling Green). That’s how they treated it. It’s how we do it.”
Mullen also said the suspension of senior linebacker Brandon Maye would be re-evaluated this week, but he said the backup middle linebacker would be allowed to participate in practice starting Monday.
Maye has 26 tackles (two for loss) in eight games this season.
Last weekend was the second game Maye, a transfer from Clemson University, has missed. MSU officials said Saturday his absence was due to a disciplinary action that wouldn’t be addressed.