STARKVILLE – N.C. State was in Starkville for a crucial early-season matchup, and postgame a Mississippi State player is saying this:
“He’s a home run hitter. He gives us confidence. He gives us life. He gives us a spark.”
Surely one looks at the two teams competing and sees those words and thinks, there must have been a big game at Dudy Noble Field between two of the nation’s top baseball programs.
Instead, those words are coming from Mississippi State running back Dillon Johnson, and he’s talking about MSU’s most exciting player through two games – receiver and kick returner Lideatrick “Tulu” Griffin.
“When he’s back there,” Johnson said, “we just know he can take it home any second.”
Griffin didn’t waste any time against N.C. State last Saturday as he took the opening kickoff 100 yards, reaffirming why MSU should continue electing to receive when it wins the coin toss.
“That really created momentum for our team, which to be honest with you, I thought we kept the whole game,” MSU coach Mike Leach said following his team’s 24-10 win Saturday.
Griffin’s previous big return — early in the fourth quarter of MSU’s Week 1 win against Louisiana Tech — played the same role of sparking MSU after falling behind 34-14.
In consecutive returns, Griffin gave his team energy. His playmaking ability gets fans and teammates excited, but Griffin can’t succeed against 11 defenders on his own.
It takes players understanding the importance of their role — even veteran players who don’t question why they’re out on special teams.
Griffin’s return against N.C. State is keyed by a hustle play from senior receiver Austin Williams.
A quartet of MSU’s players blocked off Griffin’s right side, but two N.C. State defenders appeared to have a clean shot at Griffin from the left.
Williams’ role is to block them off, but he’s trailing.
Williams comes in at the last moment without garnering a block in the back penalty and nudges the first N.C. State defender into the other.
Williams could have accepted being beaten, but his simple attempt at catching up opened a seam for Griffin.
A tenacious block by junior safety Collin Duncan kept that seam open for Griffin, who has a natural feel for finding them.
“He's decisive,” Leach said. “I've always thought your best kick returner is the guy that can hit full speed really fast and is courageous enough to hit the slot that you're trying to create with whatever blocking scheme you have. He's all of that.”
The blocking was key, Leach said, but the play was finished off by a one-man show.
Griffin broke a pair of tackles before juking back to his right to fend off N.C. State’s last hope: kicker Trenton Gill.
Griffin had 50 yards of open field ahead of him after beating Gill to complete the 100-yard return.
It took seven seconds to finish off the run. It took about four more seconds for his teammates to catch up to him after he crossed the goal line.
“That man is different,” Johnson said.