Montez Sweat Hopes to Finish College Career with Bowl Win
By Joey Johnston
It's appropriate that Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat will complete his college football career at an NFL venue.
When Sweat leads his Bulldogs (8-4) against the Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium, it's the close of a distinguished, well-decorated chapter for his life.
Another one will soon open. He already has enough qualities to make that one speak volumes.
Sweat (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) is a highly sought NFL draft prospect who possesses enviable size, speed and desire for the edge-rush position.
"One of the best things about him is he doesn't see himself as bigger than the team,'' Bulldogs defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "He is just a really, really good teammate.''
With an extraordinary skill set.
Sweat led Mississippi State with 11 sacks and finished second in tackles for a loss with 13.5 (after tying for the SEC lead with 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss as a junior).
"He has numbers that get your attention,'' Bulldogs coach Joe Moorhead said.
Those numbers got the NFL's attention last season. Sweat, who appeared in two 2014 games with Michigan State before transferring to Copiah-Lincoln Community College, arrived in Starkville as perhaps the nation's top pass-rushing athletes. He didn't disappoint, immediately creating nightmares for opposing SEC offensive linemen.
Sweat had a big enough reputation to be selected as a premium-round draft pick last season.
Who could have blamed him? Especially after Coach Dan Mullen departed for the University of Florida and Moorhead - an unknown quantity - took over.
But Sweat saw the big picture.
He stayed - and his stock has improved.
"I have a huge appreciation for Montez in trusting in our staff,'' Moorhead said. "He trusted what we were going to do with him schematically for his last year. No question, he could have left and headed to the NFL after the bowl game.
"Someone with his size, his speed, his length, his physicality, those are great qualities (for the NFL). Now he has made a great transition from primarily a (3-4 alignment) to a 4-down lineman look. He has all the qualities you seek in an All-SEC, All-American, high draft pick kind of guy. He's going to make a lot of money in this game.''
First, though, Sweat wants to cash in with a victory in the Outback Bowl.
Sweat already has contributed mightily to a defensive unit that ranks No. 1 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring defense (12.0 points per game), fewest touchdowns allowed (12), fewest yards per play allowed (4.14), pass efficiency defense (97.26), red-zone touchdown percentage (25.0) and fewest 50-plus-yard plays allowed (0).
Sweat displayed dominant skills in most every game. His highlight was three sacks against Auburn. But Sweat was quick to pass around the credit, particularly in the direction of 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons.
"He allows me to get those one-on-one (matchups with an offensive lineman),'' Sweat said. "They can't double team two people on our defensive line because that's not going to wind up too good.''
Shoop said Sweat isn't just a pass-rushing specialist either, praising his player for zone blitzing, dropping into coverage and playing against the run. Sweat's physical attributes and willingness to learn has made him a valuable commodity.
Bulldogs defensive line coach Brian Baker, a former NFL assistant for 19 seasons, said Sweat compares favorably to defensive linemen who project to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
All of which makes this a very simple story to tell.
He has blazed a fearsome trail through the SEC. As for his NFL future and ability to make a mark there?
According to the coaches who know him best, it should be absolutely no Sweat.