October 26, 2010 9:41:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The University of Kentucky''s Randall Cobb will be the Mississippi State football team''s most difficult individual matchup this season.
MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz thinks enough of the Wildcats'' do-it-all player that he believes Cobb will present a greater challenge than Auburn University quarterback Cameron Newton.
Cobb''s ability to be a threat all over the field will create a pivotal week of preparation for Diaz and his defense. No. 23 MSU will play host to Kentucky at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) at Davis Wade Stadium.
"Cam Newton is tough to deal with, but they snap it to him on every play," Diaz said. "Cobb, there''s no telling. He''s a unique challenge."
Cobb leads Kentucky (4-4, 1-4) with 47 catches, is second on the team with 195 rushing yards, has three touchdown passes, and has returned 19 kickoffs, too.
"He''s the head of the snake," Diaz said. "He''s the first guy you have to be aware of, but they do a great job in their scheme where they''ll run him on a fake reverse and hand the ball off to the back, so they''ll use him as eye candy as well to distract you."
No. 23 MSU (6-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) is coming off a 29-24 victory against the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Saturday. Diaz wasn''t happy with much of what his defense did, saying it did a "poor" job tackling, covering, and playing the run.
"We were playing with a dull blade," Diaz said. "I think we just lacked the cutting edge."
The wear and tear of the season has started to catch up to the Bulldogs, who played without five offensive starters and were down two defensive ends and three defensive backs against the Blazers.
Depth is at a premium, even as the Bulldogs approach next week''s bye week ahead of a physical game at the University of Alabama.
"We had defensive backs that played over 90 snaps between that and the kicking game," Diaz said. "(Linebackers) Chris (White) and K.J. (Wright) played over 80 snaps each, and that just can''t happen. We''ve got to do a better job using our bench, and, at the same time, our bench has to do a better job of convincing us to put them in the game. We had way too many guys play way too many snaps in that game."
Diaz and the defense will rely most on freshman Jameon Lewis this week in practice. Lewis who has been the primary "Wildcat" formation quarterback for MSU''s scout team, and he will play the role of Cobb.
A former high school quarterback, Lewis led Tylertown to an undefeated record and the Class 3A state title in 2008. He had 31 offensive touchdowns his senior season.
"Being a high school quarterback, he really carried his team to a state title last year (2008)," Mullen said. "He has that ability to do a lot of different things. He can simulate throwing the pass plays because he can throw. It''s just a natural fit for him. LaDarius Perkins did a lot of that last year."
Diaz calls Lewis the "hardest player to tackle" on MSU''s roster, but he and Mullen agree having an adequate simulation to prepare for Cobb is close to impossible.
"If we could simulate a guy like him, he probably wouldn''t be simulating on the scout team. He''d probably be playing for us," Mullen said. "(Lewis) will play that position this week, and hopefully give us somewhat of a simulation of what it''s gonna be like."
Kicking duties still game-time decision
Derek DePasquale tied a school record with five field goals Saturday, but that wasn''t enough to earn the job outright.
Mullen left the door open for DePasquale and Sean Brauchle to split duties or to perform both kickoff and field goal-extra point duties.
"We''ll see how practice goes," Mullen said. "They know we believe in both of them. Derek did a great job; Sean did a great job on kickoffs. They''re both gonna play, and we''re gonna see which one''s doing better at one, or if one''s doing better at both, we''ll go with that guy."
DePasquale leads the team with 5 of 6 field goals, while Brauchle is 3 of 7 with two blocked kicks.
Brauchle has taken 30 of the 44 kickoffs but has followed an MSU score with a kickoff out of bounds in the past two games.
Both players have had to discipline themselves in their mechanics.
"As I was growing up and developing and going to camps, the main thing they would teach you is the best kickers can coach themselves because you''re not always gonna have somebody there for you," DePasquale said. "You talk to any NFL kicker, they push the ball right and they know what they did and they go back and fix it. It''s just like in school, calculating problems. When you do something wrong, there''s something you can back, look at, and fix it."
DePasquale said Mullen has worked with the kickers to eliminate the jab step that begins their three-step stride toward the football.
"He really focuses on us trying to get rid of those," DePasquale said. "I''ve been working on it, but it''s tough to change up completely, but to slowly make it smaller and smaller to get rid of it has really helped me out."
Michael Carr wasn''t used to standing on the sidelines, so when he got the chance to touch the ball Saturday he made the most of it.
The West Point High School grad had two carries for 23 yards and forced a fumble of old Starkville High rival and UAB running back Pat Shed on the final kickoff return Saturday.
Mullen said Carr''s all-around development has finally reached the stage where he can have an increased role, which is imperative given wide receiver Leon Berry is done for the season due to injury.
"He''s a young developing player that has more and more confidence," Mullen said. "That comes with player development, as young players start to grow up, they make those plays.
"The development of players is not, ''Here''s the ball, go do something special.'' It''s ''What are you doing? Are you covering kicks? Are you involved in special teams? Are you becoming an all-around football player?'' Not only now is he starting to get his first touches, but he''s making big plays in the kicking game."
Perkins named SEC Freshman of the Week
MSU running back LaDarius Perkins'' career day against UAB earned him a league honor Monday.
Perkins rushed for 131 yards on 18 carries and scored both of MSU''s touchdowns, earning him SEC Freshman of the Week.
Perkins earned the same honor for his 48 rushing yards against Alcorn State and is the third MSU player to be named Freshman of the week this season.
Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton and University of Georgia linebacker Justin Houston were named SEC offensive and defensive players of the week.
Special teams honors went to Arkansas receiver and return man Joe Adams.
Alabama left tackle James Carpenter is offensive lineman of the week, and Auburn''s Nick Fairley earned defensive line honors.
Associated Press reports were included in this report.
2. Howland likes MSU's non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Walters column: Prep football season coming closer LOCAL COLUMNS