By JOEL COLEMAN
Rufus Warren is in uncharted territory for himself.
The tight-end-turned-left-tackle for Mississippi State is now two games into the adjustment of becoming both an offensive lineman and a starter.
“He’s played more snaps the last two weeks than he’s played in the (three) prior years combined,” MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy said.
Warren is brutally honest when asked to assess his performance so far. For the 6-foot-7, 299-pounder, there have been ups. There have been downs. Through it all, Warren says he can feel himself starting to improve.
“I’m still getting the hang of it,” Warren said. “I’m still making a few mistakes here and there just getting used to the position but I feel myself getting better. I felt I played a lot better in the LSU week than I did the Southern (Mississippi) week and these next couple of weeks to come, I’m going to try to hit the mountaintop.”
Part of Warren’s progression is learning how to deal with failure. Against Southern Miss and LSU, Warren has lost his share of battles up front. Hevesy says that’s not an issue. The primary coaching point he addresses with Warren is bouncing back when things don’t go so well.
“You’re going to get beat,” Hevesy said. “It’s how you come back the second time and do it. It’s how you come back the third time and do it. If you let it bother you and I see it on your face, I’m pulling you. Not because you’re not good enough, but because if it’s bothering you and you’re worried about it, you’re going to get beat again and again.”
Warren had the chance to display his mental toughness last Saturday. It was a rough night for Warren and his fellow offensive linemen in the early going against LSU. The Tigers consistently got pressure to Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott and MSU was held to just 109 total offensive yards in the first half.
“We were thinking too much,” Warren said. “We saw a lot of bizarre stuff and as offensive linemen, when you think too much, you go away from your technique. So a lot of it had to do with thinking too much and making calls late and stuff like that. We were able as a group to go in at halftime and figure out what was going on and come out in the second half better than we did.”
In the third and fourth quarters, the Bulldogs picked up the pace by running an up-tempo offense that allowed MSU to dig itself out of a 21-6 hole before falling short in the end, 21-19.
“Basically, just go fast,” Warren said of the strategy developed at the intermission. “Just get down and snap it. That was the main coaching point for the second half was to just go fast and catch LSU off guard.”
It was a confidence-building moment for Warren and all of his teammates on the line.
“Now, we do know how good we are,” Warren said. “Now, we just have to take it to the next level coming up and playing Northwestern (this Saturday). This can be a cleanup game for the offensive line. Auburn and Texas A&M the weeks after that, we just have to hit our strong points, which is going fast.”
It’s not that Warren has it all figured out. There are surely a few more bumps in the road ahead. Still, with plenty of big games ahead on MSU’s schedule, Warren now understands he’s ready for the good, the bad or anything else that comes his way.
“Guys inside (on the line) can make mistakes,” Hevesy said. “You can look and a receiver can run a wrong route and nobody is going to know. But (at tackle) you’re in the spotlight. The two biggest spotlight people are corners and offensive tackles. But that’s the role you have and the life you lead, and with criticism is going to come accolades. You’ve got to take them both in stride.”