October 3, 2012 10:50:50 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Denico Autry's answer to what he thinks he needs to improve on the most after his first month is a scary thought for Southeastern Conference quarterbacks.
"There's no doubt I have to be a better pass rusher otherwise I'm not doing my job," Autry said Tuesday.
The statistics show Autry, one of the most acclaimed junior college prospects in the nation out of East Mississippi Community College, may have a point. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound junior defensive lineman has just one sack in four games this season. That total explains why the No. 20 Mississippi State University football team (4-0, 1-0 SEC) is near the bottom in the league and the Football Bowl Subdivision with five sacks.
Autry came to Starkville as a four-star prospect after recording 81 tackles, including a team-high 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, last season in EMCC's march to a national title.
"I just think I've worried too much at keeping my fundamentals down against the run that I've ignored what comes naturally to me and that's going after the quarterback," said Autry, who was a first-team NJCAA All-American in 2011.
Autry takes ownership in the MSU defense's less-than-aggressive performance the past two weeks in victories against Troy University and the University of South Alabama. Despite having three quarterback hurries two weeks ago against USA, Autry has only two tackles for a loss since recording a sack in his first game at MSU against Jackson State University.
"He knows he can be very valuable to us right away as a junior college player otherwise he would not have been recruited by us so heavily," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said on Aug. 7.
Fans expected Autry, who is from Albemarle, N.C., to transform the team's disappointing pass rush in 2011 by quickly becoming an elite player. Autry will try to become that player at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (WCBI) when he goes after freshman quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles and the University of Kentucky (1-3, 0-2).
"We have to get in their face and let them know we're there," Autry said. "It's an SEC game, and that means we have to raise our game to another level."
EMCC associate head coach/defensive coordinator William Jones said in December that Autry plays with an "unbelievable spirit", and that he expected Autry to provide an experienced presence. The reality of the situation is Autry is still trying to adjust to the rigors and mental focus needed to play in the SEC.
"I look at a guy like Denico (and) I think he has a great work ethic and he has ability," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "We brought him in here to be the starter, not to be a situational guy."