October 8, 2012 9:41:09 PM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Benardrick McKinney never thought he'd be getting this much attention this early in his career.
The Mississippi State University linebacker will have to learn how to relish the spotlight after he posted a career day in helping lead the No. 19 Bulldogs to a 27-14 victory against the University of Kentucky Saturday. McKinney's performance included a career-high 12 tackles, including 10 solo stops against the Wildcats, while also tallying a tackle for loss and two pass deflections.
"I was working hard in practice during the spring and in the weight room to have a big impact but I never thought it would result in this role, this soon," McKinney said Monday.
All of this production from the middle linebacker spot was named Co-Southeastern Conference freshman of the week by league officials Monday.
McKinney also helped lead a MSU (5-0, 2-0 in SEC) defense that held Kentucky to 20-yards-or-less on nine of their 12 possessions, while also forcing five three-and-outs. The Tunica native leads all SEC freshmen in tackles per game (7.2) mostly due to the attention being put on the veteran beside him in senior Cam Lawrence.
"I think everybody knows where No. 10 (Lawrence's number) is on the field now and maybe Benardrick is getting the benefit of that with the opportunities to make plays," MSU linebackers coach Geoff Collins said.
McKinney, a 6-foot-5 and 235-pound middle linebacker, has been a student under Lawrence this season as he's learned how to not only do his job in the middle of the field but also direct traffic among the rest of the defensive personnel.
At the MIKE linebacker position, McKinney is one of the players responsible for changing the blitz package or the coverage of the Bulldogs defense before the snap of the ball if the situation call for a specific adjustment.
"Wow is all I can say about him right now," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said Monday. "He has given us everything we thought he would in terms of being instinctive out there and what he's able to do in the run game."
All of those mind games might be overwhelming for most young players but McKinney says he learned his responsibilities from Lawrence, who loves the chess playing aspect of the pre-snap decisions.
"It is not as hard as it seems because Cam is always helping me out and if you don't hear me making the check then he'll just make it for me," McKinney said.
In the spring and fall preseason practices, McKinney was in a positional battle with sophomore Ferlando Bohanna and while both are still seeing time, McKinney clearly has made mark for himself as a consistent precise on the MSU defense.
"What's really happening out there is the defensive lineman are eating up a lot of blocks for guys like me and the other linebackers on our team to make open field tackles without being touched," McKinney said. "None of us are selfish and I recognize that I'll need to bounce the play back to somebody like Cam as well."
McKinney's tackle totals have gone up each of the five games he has played this season and has overtaken Lawrence for the team lead in that category with 36 and 2.5 behind the line-of-scrimmage.
"We see him as a three down guy that never comes off the field," Wilson said. "The one thing you feel really good about Benardrick is you don't have to draw him a road map. The more he plays, the better he gets."
McKinney is a large part of an MSU defense which ranks 12th in the nation in pass efficiency defense as the SEC's best aerial attack comes in Starkville Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN2) in the form of the University of Tennessee.
McKinney is another example of player identification and development as he was the first player from Rosa Fort High School to sign with an SEC program since 2001 after turning down offers from the University of Mississippi, Louisiana State University and the University of Memphis.
"The honor from the SEC is just another testament to the amount he has worked and put into being a better football player here at Mississippi State," Collins said. "First to practice, first to the meeting rooms and just a pleasure to coach."