September 21, 2017 10:46:02 AM
STARKVILLE -- Elgton Jenkins provided a brief distraction from the real focal point of the Mississippi State offensive line.
When Jenkins' first start at center began with a few lower-than-desired snaps, suddenly all of the attention on new starters Darryl Williams (left guard) and Stewart Reese (right tackle) vanished. With two more games in the books, Williams and Reese aren't under such scrutiny anymore.
In the MSU offensive line's impressive performances to start the season, the new additions to the group have been the standouts. Williams was named the Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week for his efforts last week while Reese held renowned LSU defensive lineman Arden Key in check many more times than not. The task doesn't get easier for them as MSU (3-0, 1-0 SEC) goes to Georgia (3-0) 6 p.m. Saturday at Sanford Stadium, but those around them show no concern.
The task won't be any easier for Williams and Reese at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) when No. 17 MSU (3-0, 1-0 SEC) faces No. 11 Georgia (3-0) at Sanford Stadium, but those around them aren't concerned.
"They all graded well," MSU offensive line coach / co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy said. "The only thing Darryl didn't do was have a mental error."
Williams entered the season with experience as a guard, but it was on the right side. The preseason gave him ample opportunity to work through the nuances of dropping back into pass protection with his left leg, among other things.
Williams was particularly effective as a puller, when he left his position at the snap and moved behind the center to the opposite side of the line to serve as a lead blocker for the running back. Backup offensive lineman Harrison Moon said Williams is quicker than what his 6-foot-2, 305-pound body suggests.
"I wouldn't want to be on the other side when he comes rolling through," Moon said.
Williams graded out the highest for MSU (99 percent) in the most dominant victory against No. 11 LSU in program history. He added three knockdowns in the start and paved the way for a rushing attack that had 285 yards, the most allowed by LSU since Nov. 14, 2015.
When Williams pulls, he streaks past Reese, a redshirt freshman who has proven he's up to the task -- even if he still has freshman moments.
"It's just tough. He's a young player that's still developing," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "You see a lot of positive with him, and we have to limit the errors of the learning curve as he's getting ready to be the every-down guys at right tackle."
If the LSU game is any indication, Reese is limiting those errors. He surrendered just one sack and one quarterback pressure to Key. Reese viewed the matchup as "a chance to show if I was ready to accept the challenge of stepping into that role I've been placed in."
That's why Reese entered his SEC debut and his first game against an elite pass rusher with no fear.
"I respect him as a player, but you try not to come into the game fearful of what he can do," Reese said. "I gave up a sack and a QB pressure and really, those two instances, I was thinking too much and reacting to what he did instead of doing what I was supposed to. When it comes to players like Arden Key, you respect their name and you respect their game, but you have your own name and your own play, so you can't let that get to you."
That attitude was part of the reason Hevesy and Mullen opted to have Reese be the only freshman on the starting offensive line.
"Stewart's a pretty mature kid and a pretty sharp guy, so he understands what his challenges are, but I think he takes it seriously," Mullen said. "The guy doesn't seem to be bothered by the stage he's been put on and having to block some of the guys he's blocked."
Reese has personal experience with the challenge that lies ahead. His quarterback at Fort Pierce Central High School in Florida, Sam Vaughn, played at Georgia, so Reese got to see some of their defensive linemen practice. Reese came away impressed with the unit's work ethic.
Junior defensive tackle Trenton Thompson leads Georgia up front. Thompson has 12 tackles, three for a loss, for a unit that is second in the conference in rushing defense (71 yards per game).
The difference from last week's opponent is obvious.
"I feel like they move a lot more," Reese said. "LSU's linemen were more stout and didn't really move much; this time, they move a lot more and chase after the ball. LSU's linemen were a lot bigger. These linemen are a lot smaller and a lot quicker."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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