STARKVILLE — Zach Arnett and Mississippi State’s defensive coaches rarely — if ever — get to relax.
Saturday’s game at LSU is no exception when it comes to the talent of Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels, a transfer passer who was a three-year starter at Arizona State.
“There’s plenty of evidence on tape to know that he can make all the throws and he can pick apart secondaries,” Arnett said. “Combine that with the ability to make explosive plays with his legs, and it’s not exactly been a very restful week for us on the defensive staff.”
Daniels racked up 2,380 yards through the air and 710 more on the ground in 2021 with Arizona State. Through two games this season, he has accounted for 346 passing yards, 132 rushing yards, five passing scores and no interceptions.
Arnett said Daniels’ rushing talent typically gives him plenty of opportunities to pick up what can be backbreaking scramble yards.
“That’s extremely concerning when you start developing a game plan for how you’re going to rush the quarterback and then also how you’re going to play coverage to try to deny routes,” Arnett said. “In doing that, you’ve got to have some vision on the quarterback if he’s able to escape.”
Tackling will be a challenge against not only Daniels but the rest of the Tigers offense. Daniels’ top receiver is Kayshon Boutte, who had 509 yards and nine touchdowns in just six games last season.
Powerful running back John Emery Jr. has not played since 2020 because of academic issues and was suspended for the Tigers’ first two games, but he’ll be back Saturday against the Bulldogs.
“I think all of our guys know they have quite the tackling challenge there,” Arnett said of Emery.
Hargrove ‘back on board’ after short portal stint
Ke’Travion Hargrove’s stint in the NCAA transfer portal didn’t last long.
The Mississippi State redshirt freshman running back reportedly entered the portal last Friday morning, according to Matt Zenitz of On3 Sports.
Less than three hours later, Zenitz tweeted that Hargrove had withdrawn from the portal and was returning to MSU.
On Wednesday, running backs coach Jason Washington discussed Hargrove’s brief departure and his future with the Bulldogs.
Washington said he sat down with Hargrove, his mother and head coach Mike Leach in order to get Hargrove “back on board.” Evidently, the meeting went well.
“Bull’s been fantastic,” Washington said. “Everything’s going straightforward, and I’m excited to watch him in the future.”
The Ruston, Louisiana, native sat out last season and has yet to see any action in 2022. He is behind Jo’quavious Marks, Dillon Johnson and Simeon Price on Mississippi State’s depth chart.
But the speedy Hargrove has undeniable skill, and Washington said Hargrove will receive reps going forward.
“Obviously, that running back position is a physical, tough position,” Washington said. “Guys get dinged up from here to there. The big thing, especially with those young guys, is just making sure they stay locked in. Bull’s talented. He’s got all the traits that you want in a running back, and now it’s being able to do it on a consistent basis.”
Kelly praises Bulldogs’ play
New LSU coach Brian Kelly has never faced Mike Leach, but Kelly knows plenty about him regardless.
And what Kelly has seen from Leach and this year’s Bulldogs has impressed him, he said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference.
“Coach Leach, I have great respect for him and what he’s been able to accomplish at all three stops,” Kelly said, referring to Leach’s time at Texas Tech, Washington State and MSU. “This team is no exception.”
Kelly talked up nearly every aspect of the Bulldogs’ roster, from “disciplined” and “highly efficient” quarterback Will Rogers to a “great running game” — a rarity for one of Leach’s teams.
He wasn’t the first to compare Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense to a triple-option run scheme.
“They run it so well that from a defensive perspective, you have to be so good at your assignments, first and foremost, and then you’ve got to tackle,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to fight for every yard. If you try to get too cute or come up with schemes, they’ve seen it all.”
Kelly also had praise for third-year defensive coordinator Zach Arnett and his work with the Bulldogs’ defense.
Whereas some defenses tend to leave gaps open or let running backs roam free, Mississippi State has better discipline in its assignments and execution than that.
“This is a veteran group that plays hard and physical,” Kelly said. “Zach does a great job at mixing things up, but they’re all coordinated. This is probably for me, watching this defense with all of its moving pieces, as coordinated of a group that I’ve seen in a long time.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.