STARKVILLE – Technically, Mississippi State center Dillon Day doesn’t have much to do this Saturday, the result of a one-game suspension handed down by the Southeastern Conference following a pair of in-game incidents in MSU’s 34-29 win at LSU.
But despite the fact that Day isn’t playing this Saturday against No. 6 Texas A&M, he’s keeping busy anyway.
“He’s been right there with us every step this week,” said MSU offensive lineman Ben Beckwith, who will line up at center in the place of Day for the Bulldogs’ 11 a.m. kickoff against the Aggies on Saturday. “He’s my roommate, and we’ve talked about it. Last week, it was still a bit of a shock that he got suspended and we were dealing with it. But now, with the game a couple days away, we have moved on and we’re getting ready for a very good Texas A&M team.”
Day’s suspension, and MSU’s subsequent adjustment up front, is one of the kay talking points ahead of Texas A&M’s visit to Starkville, which will be the first meeting on top 15 teams since No. 14 MSU hosted No. 8 Auburn in 1986.
The Bulldogs’ offensive line, last seen mauling LSU’s defensive front to the tune of 302 rushing yards and two touchdowns, will be tasked with slowing down a Texas A&M defensive front that has posted 35 tackles for loss and 16 sacks, both good for second in the SEC.
On Monday, MSU head coach Dan Mullen released his team’s updated depth chart, a list that had Beckwith at center in place of Day; senior Blaine Clausell and sophomore Justin Senior at tackle; and sophomore Jamaal Clayborn starting in Beckwith’s vacated left guard spot, opposite right guard Justin Malone.
“That’s why we rotate a lot of players, when you start facing injuries and other adversities you have to go deal with that guys are ready to go step in and play,” said Mullen of his offensive line facing life without Day.
During MSU’s 4-0 start, the second in six years under Mullen, the Bulldogs’ offensive line has been integral to an offense that has scored 41 points and collected 538 yards per game. The Bulldogs rank third in the conference in rushing yards with 1,083 and have allowed just 15 tackles for loss, which ranks seventh in the country and second in the SEC.
For Beckwith, a fifth-year senior who started as a walk-on out of Benton Academy in Yazoo County, the adjustment following Day’s suspension has been smooth.
“It’s going good,” said Beckwith. “We’ve moved some guys over but all of these guys have played. It is different lining up as a starter as opposed to coming in as a backup because you have more jitters, but our guys know what to expect.”
Beckwith, who started 12 of MSU’s 13 games last year and all four games this year at guard, says he hasn’t played center “Since some time in high school. But I’ve been the backup center for two years, so nothing is really changing except me lining up over the ball.”
Beckwith isn’t the only Bulldog confident in MSU’s offensive line heading into Saturday’s top 15 showdown.
“Those guys haven’t missed a beat,” said MSU defensive end Preston Smith. “They will be ready to play this weekend.”
The Bulldogs will have to be. After finishing in the bottom half of the SEC in total defense in each of the past two seasons, Texas A&M’s defense has been markedly improved in 2014. Myles Garrett, a freshman defensive tackle for the Aggies, leads the SEC with 5.5 sacks, meaning the ability to keep quarterback Dak Prescott safe in the pocket will be critical for the Bulldogs up front.
“They’re a typical SEC defensive line, big and fast,” said MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy. “They’ve got explosive guys on the outside, they can get to the quarterback. It’s up to our guys, when their number is called, to get in there and do the job.”
For Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who is 3-1 against MSU as a head coach and 2-0 against the Bulldogs in two seasons at Texas A&M, the key to MSU’s offense rests with Prescott.
“Dak Prescott is the player that (Mullen) has been wanting, the complete dual-threat quarterback, to make this thing go,” said Sumlin. “(They have totaled) over 500 yards every game this year. They’re going up and down the field on everybody.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat