September 2, 2010 9:54:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Through two weeks, the Starkville High School football team''s defense has been dominant.
Now comes a championship-caliber test against No. 2-ranked Meridian.
While proud of his defense''s performance in the first two games, Starkville High coach Jamie Mitchell knows the Jackets will have to outperforming their current level against the Wildcats'' deep and talented crew of skill players.
Last week, Starkville (1-1) held Louisville to 102 yards total offense in a 34-0 win. In the season opener, Starkville lost to Noxubee County 14-7.
But after watching Meridian High dismantle Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A runner-up and top-10 Wayne County, the stakes have been raised in Starkville''s journey to join the state''s elite. Meridian High running back Kenya Roberts had four touchdowns and rushed for 93 yards on 28 carries in the win, while dual-threat quarterback Antoine Adkins tallied 95 rushing yards and completed 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards.
The numbers and efficiency at which Meridian moved the ball is enough to cause game-planning headaches, but more jumped out about the Wildcats when Mitchell watched game film.
"Greatness" was the first word he used when asked about his impressions of Meridian High.
"They''re loaded everywhere and are tremendously skilled on offense," Mitchell said. "They don''t play kids on both sides of the ball. It''s hard to find a weakness with this team, and they''re deserving of that number two ranking. They''re where we want to be."
The 2008 Class 5A state champions are a multi-formational team that will try to cause pre-snap problems for defenses attempting to make coverage calls.
Meridian High''s balance is a concern for Starkville High, which has allowed just a handful of big plays in the first two games. Mitchell''s biggest concern entering fall camp was rebuilding the secondary after that unit didn''t meet his expectations in the spring.
"We have a couple of spots (in the secondary) where we''ve went for the wrong shoulder or didn''t turn a man in," senior linebacker D.J. Jordan said Wednesday, "but you''re starting to see guys break down and make tackles. I think the biggest thing that helps our linebackers and our secondary is the pressure we get from our defensive line. The guys up front are playing great. I think that''s made a difference."
Practicing against their offense''s multiple sets and complex playbook has given the Yellow Jackets an edge in preparation for this week''s matchup. Still, Jordan knows Meridian High''s experience and depth of talent will help it present a diverse scheme. But he said Starkville High will try to deliver something Meridian High''s first two opponents, Wayne County and Northeast Lauderdale, haven''t.
"We feel like they haven''t played anyone who has hit them," Jordan said. "Our defense''s mind-set is we''re going to hit hard, play fast, and play hard. Starkville football, especially defense, has that tradition. I also think they might take us a little light from the previous years."
For Mitchell, putting the added pressure on Starkville High''s defense is necessary, even after watching his team rush for 388 yards against Louisville.
The offense struggled through the air, as Mitchell cited dropped passes, occasional breakdowns in protection, and lapses in decision-making as reasons for the team''s problems.
Still, the Yellow Jackets are just 50 percent through the playbook and working with a young crew of receivers. Mitchell said the passing game is where the coaches thought it would be, which means avoiding a shootout with Meridian is the team''s goal Friday night.
"We don''t need to be in that situation because our playmakers aren''t established enough," Mitchell said. "We need to stay somewhat even. I don''t think we''ll be in a situation where we could go score for score. That goes back to our defense having to be great."