November 9, 2018 9:58:20 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State has three offensive players, two seniors and a junior, that are drawing the attention of NFL scouts and draft experts. None of them have attempted a pass, none of them have taken a carry and none of them have scored a touchdown.
They are the three interior offensive linemen: left guard Darryl Williams, center Elgton Jenkins and right guard Deion Calhoun.
No. 18 MSU (6-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference, No. 15 College Football Playoff) is second in the SEC in rushing yards per game and first in yards per carry, and a great deal of it is thanks to a middle trio that has been dominant throughout the season. Their toughest test of the season comes 2:30 p.m. Saturday (WCBI), but if any unit can handle top-ranked Alabama, this may be the one.
"You've seen some of the draft boards rank (Jenkins) as one of the top centers in the country and I think that's very warranted," MSU coach Joe Moorhead said. "The core sets the tone and those guys have done a great job with their physicality, mentality and particularly (against Auburn), they set the tone of the game."
Advanced statistics quantify that impact.
Generally, on run plays, any gain within five yards of the line of scrimmage is considered the responsibility of the offensive line -- it is their job to give the ball carrier enough room to get going, after all. Based on that concept, Bill Connelly produces an opportunity rate, which measures how often a player's carries go for at least five yards, thus an opportunity for a big play granted by the offensive line.
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has an opportunity rate of 64.2 percent and running back Kylin Hill stands at 59.3 percent, both of them above the national average.
Calhoun and Williams have both had their highlight-reel moments -- both are particularly good at pulling, delivering devastating blocks on the linebackers in their crosshairs -- but they know where their success starts.
"Big E makes everybody right," Calhoun said of Jenkins.
Williams added, "Elgton, he's a person that's going to get onto you if you don't know what you're supposed to do. I love that about him. He's going to demand a lot of you to make sure you know the scheme and we can get those guys out of the way."
Jenkins is so comfortable in this role because it's become easy for him. The zone concepts are simple ones that the entire line knows, so he does little more than confirm what everyone else is seeing; the gap-based schemes can contain more nuance, but he credits the coaching staff for giving him the information he needs and making his job simple.
From there, all he has to do is get everyone doing the same thing.
"If we're wrong, we're going to be wrong together. Odds are if we're all wrong together, something is going to be right," Jenkins said.
After starting together all of last season, the communication among those three in the middle has become seamless to the point that Calhoun finds it easier to communicate with his tackle, Stewart Reese, and Williams sees the same with Greg Eiland.
The way the middle three are playing right now, all three of them will get the chance to do the same at the next level. For now, all of them are enjoying the rewards of their time together.
"That's what it's all about being an offensive lineman in the SEC, you have to have the game experience so you can play faster," Calhoun said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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