Every time Mississippi State scored against Tennessee Saturday, offensive lineman Tobias Smith was on the field.
Whenever the senior stepped to the sideline, the Bulldog offense struggled. No points, short drives and several punts.
“It’s different having him around,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said.
In the second quarter against the Volunteers, Smith went down after getting rolled up. He managed to get off the field under his own power, but he wasn’t able to return until the fourth quarter, when the scoring started back for MSU.
Naturally, Smith is a strong player. However, his coaches and teammates say it isn’t just the blocking which makes Smith so important or that gets the offensive line working so much better.
“I mean, when you watch the film you don’t point and say ‘boy it was the right guard was the reason we didn’t move the ball on these series’,” Dan Mullen said. “There’s several different factors that are involved in it.”
The main factor, it turns out, is his leadership.
“I think he just brings some leadership into that huddle, and a little different demeanor,” Mullen said. “Him being in the huddle I think uplifts the play of everybody around him.”
Hevesy agreed, saying the difference between Smith and someone else from a playing-level standpoint isn’t nearly as great as the difference in the undefinable something the senior brings to the field.
Try to ask Hevesy what it is exactly Smith does to bring such a change to his teammates and he says, basically, you have to experience it for yourself.
“When he comes in here, you’ll get the same feeling,” Hevesy said during Monday’s media session. “Just the smile on his face. For those kids, there’s never a dull moment with him. He’s got a smile on his face. He’s positive in everything he does. You just get a vibe from him that not every kid has. It’s great to have him on the field.”
After starting and playing extensively Against Auburn in week two, Smith didn’t play again until Saturday, barely practicing or doing at all in the meantime as he allowed his knee to continue healing.
In his return Saturday, MSU’s offensive line played its best game of the season, with three players grading out above 90 percent and all five starters hitting at least the 85 percent mark.
No, it’s not a coincidence that happened in Smith’s return.
“When things aren’t going good,” junior quarterback Tyler Russell said, “he steps in to the offensive line and calms guys down. I don’t have to do it myself. It’s a blessing to have him back.”
It was not only for what he did blocking, but for that leadership, exhorting and determination Smith earned SEC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week honors on Monday.
“This was the best I’ve played all year,” Smith said.
And it was, really, only the second time he had played extensively in 2012, or even since his initial injury over a year ago.
Smith went down early in the 2011 season and was unable to play the rest of the way as MSU struggled to a 6-6 record. He didn’t practice in the spring, didn’t workout in the summer and couldn’t go through contact in the fall.
“And yet still voted a captain by his teammates,” Mullen said. “It shows the respect he has on the team.”
Smith genuinely doesn’t get caught up in honors like being named captain or winning awards during the season.
He’s just happy – thrilled, in fact – to be able to play. As he does so, he just wants to help his Bulldogs as much as he can.
“Me being a senior,” Smith said, “that’s the role. I feel like I have an effect on all the guys and they trust me.”