Wednesday, September 22, 2010

This Week in the Dawg House: Mississippi State Defense

The Dawgs look to rebound this week against the Fightin' Mullens in Starkville, Mississippi. The Bizarro Dogs defensive resume looks pretty impressive when considering their opponents in Memphis, Auburn, and LSU (in Red Stick). For you stat junkies, MSU ranks 6th in the conference in total defense, allowing 283 yards per game. Passing D has been exceptionally good, ranking 4th in the SEC with around 150 yards per game. Rush defense is a little more suspect- opponents are running for around 134 yards a game, which is good for 8th in the conference. Passing, rushing, and total defense rank 22nd, 50th, 27th in the nation, respectively.

Coaches on the defensive side of the ball include former MTSU defensive coordinator Matty Diaz, wait... uh, Manny Diaz, who was a very hot commodity in the coordinators market this offseason. Chris Wilson coaches the defensive line, corners and nickels are coached by Melvin Smith, and the safeties are coached by recruiting coordinator Tony Hughes. This is Wison's 1st year at MSU, having coached DE's the last five years at his alma mater Oklahoma. Smith has been at State for 5 years and Hughes has been somewhat of a journeyman of late, having coached at Southern Miss, Ole Miss, and MSU the last five years.

For the more informative and subjective evaluations, I'm taking the liberty of starting with the best unit and working my way toward the most vulnerable.

Defensive Line:
As you can tell from the stats above, the MSU d-line has underachieved a bit to this point in the season, taking into account their talent across the line. Senior, and JUCO transfer #90 Pernell McPhee anchors the line at defensive end. McPhee was a Georgia recruit last year before signing with the Bizarro Dogs and was very good in the JUCO ranks prior to racking up 56 tackles, 5 sacks, and 7 tackles for loss. He was selected as 2nd Team All-SEC. The defensive tackles, #94 Flectcher Cox and #97 Josh Boyd, are sophomores in the 6'3/6'4 300 pound range. Cox seems to be the better of the two, accounting for 29 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 4 starts in his true freshman season and was also named Freshman All-SEC. Nick Bell, #36, mans the end spot opposite of McPhee and had 2 starts under his belt last year. His backup #99 Sean Ferguson had 4 starts, 35 tackles, and 5.5 tackles for loss last year, which is fairly impressive for a number two guy.

This is a unit that has yet to hit it's stride. Hopefully, they won't on Saturday either, but I don't get a good feeling when thinking about how horrible our offensive line has played thus far. MSU's d-line has yet to record a sack this year, but do have 9.5 tackles for loss. MSU is next to last in both of these categories as a team in the conference which makes me feel a little better, but not much. I would liken their performance to this point as on par with our offensive line, only their defensive line is not supposed to be the best in the country.

I almost had to put this unit first based on play from this year, but the defensive line has too much talent to play like they have all year. The Dogs secondary has been very good in pass defense this year because of two very talented young corners. #25 Corey Broomfield was very good as a freshman last year collecting 19 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 4 pass break-ups, while earning freshman All-SEC. The left corner spot is manned by converted safety and also freshman All-SEC Johnthan Banks. Banks is a very big, stalky corner at 6'2, 185. In seven starts as a true freshman last year, he tabbed 33 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 3 pass break-ups. Backups are very experienced as #15 Maurice Langston started the last 5 games last season, #26 Damien Anderson also started in 5 games last year, while #20 Louis Watson played in 9 games.

The safety spot was a bit of a liability in surrendering the big play last year, but all players at that position have returned this year. #4 Charles Mitchell plays strong safety and started all 12 games last season. The 5'11 205 pounder had 64 tackles and 4 picks last year. #5 Nickoe Whitley holds down the free safety spot above the concussion prone #42 Zack Smith, who started 5 games last year before sitting out the rest with effects from multiple concussions. #7 Wade Bonner also has starting experience and will provide some depth on this unit.

Passing on this group has been a tough go so far this year. Most of these players weren't highly recruited out of high school, but have obviously been coached very well in their time at MSU. Seemingly this doesn't happen at UGA often, but this isn't a Georgia gripes article, so I will refrain. This unit looks pretty good statistically so far, but they haven't played quarterbacks of very good quality. I know people are all over Cam Newton at Auburn, but one could easily argue that he hasn't been as good as Aaron Murray with the weapons at his disposal. Jordan Jefferson, everyone knows he is atrocious and Cannon Smith at Memphis- well beside the fact he is close to having the best name ever for a quarterback, he hasn't started since. Considering the play of our receivers however, this is still a big concern.

The biggest concern this offseason was who would replace Jamar Chaney at middle linebacker. Manny Diaz slid #50 Chris White over from the outside, where he started all 12 games last year after transferring from Gulf Coast Community College. White will be the huge, defensive end-looking white guy in the middle of the defense, if you can't find him. The best player in this unit also doubles as Godzilla, as the 6'4 250 pound #34 K.J. Wright is the Dogs leading tackler from a year ago and also leads the team with 23 early on this year. Converted safety, #48 Emmanuel Gatling starts on the outside. #20 Cameron Lawrence also provides quality depth at OLB, as he was projected to start before fall camp.

Honestly, with linebackers this big, I'm a little more worried than at my initial thought. I keep predicting that the tight ends will have a break out game and this could be a match up we exploit. I haven't seen tape on these guys, so I don't know how good they are from sideline to sideline. I think that is why you see a converted safety at the outside spot. It looks like they needed a little more quicks in the corps and put a safety who was a step slow down to run with the TE. With our line underperforming and Manny Diaz's blitz-happy scheme, this could make for a long day with guys this big at LB.

Mississippi State continued its foray into the JUCO ranks when they recruited and signed P #38 Heath Hutchins out of Itawamba Community College. Hutchins is averaging about 41 yards per kick, but doesn't look to have a huge leg. At Itawamba kicking last year he only had four touchbacks.

They have a punter.

Projected Starting Lineup:

DE #90 Pernell McPhee
DT #97 Josh Boyd
DT #94 Fletcher Cox
DE #36 Nick Bell
WLB #20 Cameron Lawrence
MLB #50 Chris White
SLB #34 K.J. Wright
CB #25 Corey Broomfield
CB #13 Johnthan Banks
FS #5 Nickoe Whitney
SS #4 Charles Mitchell

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