STARKVILLE — Erroll Thompson’s physical skill was enough to earn a spot on the Southeastern Conference’s All-Freshman team last year, yet it was made clear to him that would not be enough in 2018.
Thompson was asked to make himself a cerebral player, an expert in a new scheme to the point that he can adapt it to Southeastern Conference offenses on the fly.
Through eight games, he has done that with no hindrance on his physical output.
Thompson’s end zone interception in the fourth quarter was just the end of yet another impressive outing, as seven tackles — many of them violent enough to land on the highlight reel — helped No. 21 MSU (5-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) beat then-No. 16 Texas A&M 28-13.
Nothing about Saturday’s performance was abnormal. He is now second on the team in tackles (53), tied for first in interceptions (two) and top 10 in tackles for a loss (3.5). He was 20th in. the SEC in tackles before the Texas A&M game and his seven tackles did nothing to hurt his per game averages.
He has shown up when MSU needs him most: 14 tackles against Florida, nine against LSU and an interception against Kansas State. His performance Saturday came when MSU was missing two defensive starters, defensive tackle Braxton Hoyett and defensive back Brian Cole.
Yet, when the midseason All-American teams were released, Thompson’s name was nowhere to be found. On a defense that contains two defensive linemen projected to be first-round NFL Draft picks — Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat — Thompson’s production may be flying under the radar.
“I’m the slept on guy on the defense,” Thompson said. “We have a lot of big-name guys, I guess that’s what it is. I feel lone I’m the lone wolf in the pack, nobody talks about me, but that’s OK.
“Nobody really knows me, I guess.”
Maybe that explains the additional anger in several of his tackles against Texas A&M, making each of his seven tackles make an impact on the ball carrier. He admits he was pretty fired up for the game, but couldn’t place a particular reason why.
“I saw Erroll, he was real energetic. That’s Erroll though, that’s always Erroll,” defensive back Jaquarius Landrews said. “I get my energy off Erroll, I really do.”
In any event, his contributions are not going unnoticed in the program.
“Obviously very talented player,” MSU coach Joe Moorhead said. “He kind of runs the whole operation, sets the front, the coverage and the pressure, kind of the quarterback of the defense, I guess you could say. When intelligence and talent with execution, this will be the result.”
His most important play to date was a fitting display of the new Thompson: the physical monster armed with intelligence equally as dangerous.
On that fourth-and-goal, Thompson remembered Texas A&M recently used an inside receiver on a seam route into the end zone; if not for Montez Sweat pressuring the passer, it may have been completed for a touchdown. When the Aggies went to that action again, Thompson saw it — and let it happen.
He drifted to his left, near the passing lane but not in it. With his mind, he baited Kellen Mond into making the throw; with his physical skills, he closed the gap to intercept it.
Last year’s Thompson would keep MSU in games while he was in Dez Harris’ place; the new Thompson wins games on an every snap basis.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.