December 28, 2017 10:30:19 AM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Uncertainty was all around the Mississippi State football team when it came together in mid-December to begin preparing for Louisville and the TaxSlayer Bowl. The interim coaching staff that came together in the wake of Dan Mullen's departure included an interim head coach that has never sat in the lead chair in any capacity and an interim offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach Brett Elliott, that has also never held that title.
Ron English was the steadying force on the other side of the ball.
MSU's star defensive end Montez Sweat said early in bowl preparation that English, MSU's safeties coach and interim defensive coordinator, gave a long speech to the team to set the course for the bowl preparation. That message has stuck and the No. 24 MSU (8-4) defense seems to be on one page as it comes close to concluding practice for 11 a.m. Saturday's meeting with the Cardinals (8-4) at EverBank Field.
When English took the front of the room to make that speech, nothing felt off about it.
"He's always been an active guy. He's always been that second voice," Sweat said.
The message that took over the defense once and for all was a simple one, and rooted entirely in the months that preceded it.
"We had done well and we had really changed the mentality a little bit," English said. "I thought Coach Grantham and really the whole staff did a great job of instilling the confidence in these players because when you go from being that bad on defense and turning it around, it's not only what you're doing but how you're doing it. I thought our guys did a nice job of that.
"My message was, you finished 25th in rushing defense, I think you finished 13th in passing yards allowed and 10th in total yards allowed, but nobody's going to remember that if you don't finish well in this game. That's the message."
That being the case, English seems to have every intention of keeping the defense as close to what it was in the regular season as he possibly can. Yet, he admits some slight differences are likely to show themselves.
"I don't know what Todd knows, I'm not as talented as Todd Grantham," English said at the thought of trying to call the game the way former MSU defensive coordinator Grantham would have. "I have to call it the way I call it."
MSU is likely to be thin at cornerback for the TaxSlayer Bowl with Lashard Durr missing both practices in Jacksonville so far with his right foot in a protective boot and Jamal Peters not with the team as he tends to family matters. English is not concerned yet.
"Next man up. We have enough guys," English said.
Without them, MSU still has consistent starter Tolando Cleveland at one cornerback spot. Candidates to take the reps in the other void are Chris Rayford, with five starts this year, in addition to Cameron Dantzler.
High praise for Jackson
While most Bulldogs have shied away from comparing Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson to any other player, English couldn't help but see one similarity that doubled as a glowing compliment.
"This guy's more elusive than Reggie Bush, to me. And Reggie Bush in college, nobody could tackle that guy," English said. "I don't think anybody compares to Lamar Jackson. I really don't."
That's why, at the thought of containing Jackson to the pocket, English could not stifle his laughter.
"Do the best you can, that's a good response," he said. "I think that's always the issue with playing a Petrino-coached team: he's going to know your weaknesses and he's going to exploit them. He'll attack that and he'll attack people. There's a whole bunch of guys you have to try to slow down."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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