MSU’s defense slowly climbing SEC rankings

Despite not receiving an abundance of help from the offense, Mississippi State’s defense has made a major turnaround this season.

Kerry Smith/AP Mississippi State linebacker K.J. Wright attempts to tackle Auburn running back Michael Dyer in a 17-14 loss to the Tigers on Sept. 9.
Associated Press

Mississippi State’s offense served up turnovers at an alarming rate last week against LSU, but the Bulldogs’ defense held the Tigers to field goals five times in a 29-7 defeat.

Although Mississippi State lost the game, it has shown improvement in keeping opponents off the scoreboard through the first three games of its first season under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

“Coach Diaz has come in and he’s done a great job of putting us in the right positions,” Mississippi State linebacker K.J. Wright said. “He’s a great coach and we’ve been doing a good job of executing what he’s given us so far.”

Wright, a senior from Olive Branch, Miss., set a career high with 12 tackles last week against LSU, including eight in the first quarter. Wright leads the team in total tackles with 23 this season.

Mississippi State (1-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) sits sixth in the SEC in scoring defense (17.7 points a game) and total defense (283.0 yards a game).

Although the numbers are in the middle of the pack, they’re ahead of last season when the Bulldogs were 10th in total defense (366.0) and 11th in scoring defense (26.8).

Mississippi State hosts Georgia (1-2, 0-2) at 7 p.m. today at Davis Wade Stadium in a battle to exit the SEC’s basement.

“One of our main things is to prevent points and that’s something we’ve done a decent job of so far this season,” Wright said. “The one thing we try to do more is to create turnovers. That’s something we’ve got to do better to prevent them from getting those field goals. We need to get turnovers, so we don’t give up any points instead of a field goal or a touchdown.”

One way to help the offense is to create turnovers and that’s where Mullen and the rest of the Bulldogs would like to see improvement. Mississippi State is 11th in the SEC in turnover margin at minus-three (eight giveaways, five takeaways).

“We’re playing solid defense,” Mullen said. “The negative part is that we didn’t make big plays to get off of the field. We did bend, but didn’t break. But we’re not built on that type of philosophy. We’re built on making plays and that’s one thing we need to improve on.”

Mississippi State allowed seven points in the opener against Memphis and 17 against Auburn. Despite making five interceptions, LSU scored 29 points against the Bulldogs last weekend.

“Their average starting field position was our 48,” Mullen said. “We played on a lopsided field all night, (LSU) did a good job of creating that lopsided field, and we did a good job of handing them that lopsided field. We’ve got a lot of things we can clean up.”

Injuries have created an unsettled environment for the Mississippi State’s quarterbacks with Chris Relf missing most of the second half against LSU.

Although the turnovers have put the defense in a bind more than once, the Mississippi State defenders don’t want to dwell on their teammates’ mistakes.

“It’s something that every football player has to deal with in games, sudden changes,” Wright said. “It’s our job to go out there whenever we’re called on and make a stop. We practice those things when a sudden change happens. We know that there are times the offense isn’t going to do as well. We understand it and we’re just going to go out and do our part to help.”

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