Mississippi State football: Bookie Watson dominates vs. Arkansas
Mississippi State football has had a rough go of things defensively for much of 2023. But Bookie Watson is not why. The senior linebacker is having the best season of what’s been an outstanding career, and he had arguably the best game of his career against Arkansas. That performance resulted in him earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
Watson sacked Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson twice and racked up tackles over the middle of the field alongside running-mate Jett Johnson. His first sack came on a 3rd & 7 early in the second quarter. Watson acts as the penetrator in a twist with Donterry Russell. He attacks the B-gap between the LG and LT while Russell loops around to the A-gap. Once the LG sees Russell looping, he lets off his block of Watson. This allows Watson to fight through past the LT at get to Jefferson.
Arkansas is running a version of Mesh out of a 2-back set. Jefferson is first looking to hit one of his RBs on a shoot route out of the backfield, but doesn’t like the look with a CB in position to pounce on a route to the flat. Before he can get to his second read, Watson is on him.
He nearly gets to Jefferson again on Arkansas’ very next drive. Again its third down. State gets into one of their common looks for this situation: Man Free with Double Mug LBs, meaning there is a LB threatening each A-gap as an apparent blitzer to form a 6-man front. To the offense is looks like an all-out blitz, but as is typically the case with State, at least one of the defenders showing pressure is going to drop into coverage. This time, it’s SAM LB JP Purvis, who’s got the RB in man coverage.
But the OL doesn’t know that until the ball is snapped. The threat of Purvis off the edge occupies the RT, leaving the RG one-on-one with DT Jaden Crumedy. DE Donterry Russell and NT Eric Taylor have the LT and LG, respectively. This leaves the C to deal with both Watson and Johnson. He takes Johnson, and Watson has a free path to Jefferson.
Arkansas has a RB screen called here, which in general is a good call against pressure. But it’s not great against this particular blitz from State considering Purvis is out with the RB quickly. And there’s rarely an answer for a LB with a free path to the QB up the middle. Jefferson’s strength keeps him upright long enough to get the ball to his RB, but by that point, the play is already dead. Even with Purvis missing the initial tackle, enough Bulldogs are in the area to make a tackle for loss.
Watson gets his second sack late in the fourth quarter. Again we get him on a twist with a DE, but this time, he aligns off the edge and works as the looper around the DE. It’s a role reversal from his first sack, but we get the same result. The DE impedes the LT enough for Bookie to easily loop around and make the sack.
State has had tons of trouble getting pressure on opposing QBs this season, but they were plenty effective on Saturday. Arkansas’ struggles along their OL certainly aided them in their efforts, but getting a dominant performance out of Bookie Watson was a major reason why too.