By JOEL COLEMAN
It’s only the first week of April, but Brandon Bryant already has a nose for the football. The Mississippi State safety shined on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium during the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage of the spring. Bryant had three interceptions, including one he returned 97 yards for a touchdown.
“That was encouraging,” Mississippi State defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon said of Bryant’s performance. “He’s taken on a leadership role. In practices, he’s become more vocal. To see him produce while he’s taken on that role, that’s going to benefit him and it’s going to benefit us a lot.”
Bryant also had half of a sack on top of his picks.
“You expect guys that have played before and had that experience to have things come a little quicker, easier and natural to them,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said.
Bryant’s playmaking abilities were the highlight of a Bulldog defense that exhibited high energy and aggressiveness throughout the scrimmage. Even Sirmon’s excitement level was on display as he charged on the field to celebrate Bryant’s touchdown return.
“When we do something well on defense, it has been a point for our staff that we’re going to celebrate those plays,” Sirmon said. “There’s enough challenges and enough things that are hard on defense that we’ll have plenty of time to improve on things, but when the kids do something well, I think we need to celebrate it.”
Mississippi State’s defense had plenty to rejoice over throughout the day. Linebackers Tim Washington and Leo Lewis each had an interception. Linebacker Kelan Chairs recovered a fumble.
Much of that production came as a result of an up-and-down scrimmage from Mississippi State’s quartet of quarterbacks.
Signal callers Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley, Damian Williams and Nick Tiano all had moments of struggle and success. Fitzgerald completed eight of his 20 passes for 118 yards, but also threw a pick. Staley threw two interceptions, but was 14-of-23 overall for 167 yards with a touchdown pass. Tiano completed five of his 10 passes for 36 yards while Williams was just 2-of-11 for 27 yards as he threw three interceptions.
“There was some good and bad,” Mullen said of the quarterback play. “That’s part of it. The key for them is just consistency and understanding that out here on the field, when you’re the guy, you have to do it over and over and over. You can’t make special plays and then terrible plays. You’ve got to make consistent plays and then special plays.”
Several other Mississippi State offensive players had standout showings on Saturday. Running back Aeris Williams paced the Bulldogs on the ground with 18 carries for 140 yards. Ashton Shumpert carried the ball eight times for 51 yards. Nick Gibson had 10 touches for 43 yards with a touchdown. Dontavian Lee had eight rushes for 49 yards and two scores.
Keith Mixon was MSU’s leading receiver with four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. Malik Dear had three receptions for 63 yards. Jamal Peters, a safety who is spending time at receiver this spring, had a pair of catches for 17 yards.
Mullen says he’ll now spend time evaluating the footage of all of Saturday’s activity. After another week of practice, the Bulldogs will then host another open scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium next Saturday.
“(Saturday) was the first scrimmage and first time to see live action out here,” Mullen said. “What I really want to see is a big jump and big improvement between this week and next week.”