This week’s game: MSU (2-0) at Troy (1-1), Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com (Shawn Kenney and John Bunting)
For all the progress that MSU has made on offense under Dan Mullen – and it’s been substantial – the highest priority in the program is defense. That doesn’t get talked about as much, because the spread offense is sexier than zone coverage. As you can read in today’s Journal, defensive coordinator Chris Wilson has perhaps his best unit to date.
He’s in his third year at State, second as DC (he was co-DC when Manny Diaz ran things in 2010). The two greatest signs of Wilson’s coaching acumen are player development and depth. Both are apparent. And through two games, this MSU defense has been tough to crack. It ranks first nationally in turnover margin (plus-3.5/game), tied for third in interceptions (five), eighth in pass efficiency defense (83.17 rating), 10th in scoring defense (9.5 ppg), 11th in total defense (240.5 ypg), 13th in pass defense (140.5 ypg), and 33rd in rush defense (100.0 ypg).
“We’ve done a great job developing those guys, setting a demeanor, setting a mindset on that side of the ball,” Mullen said. “And they get credit for doing that as well. For me, believe it or not, I spend time with the defensive guys, too. The program, as long as I’m the head coach, is always going to be based on playing great defense.”
Wilson deserves a ton of credit for getting this defense to where it is. He’s been able to incorporate younger players into the mix, which only adds to the depth. Freshman linebacker Ryan Brown, who arrived on campus in the summer, explained how Wilson helped him get settled into the defense in such a short time.
“He breaks it down to basic fundamentals on every play,” Brown said. “What he does is he gets certain drills we can do, so we try to improve each day on those drills and transition those into the game. He makes it real easy. He’s a great coach.”
Part of my story focused on how Wilson gets the first pick of players. That is, if he thinks a guy who excelled on both sides of the ball in high school can be a significant contributor on defense, Wilson gets him. He said there’s never been a problem convincing a kid to play for him.
“Last time I checked, there’s only one ball. When you get a chance to play on defense, you get a lot of opportunities to go out and create and make plays,” Wilson said.
Senior linebacker Cam Lawrence is a guy who started out on offense but was eventually moved to defense, so he knows the value of stocking up on that side of the ball.
“You’ve got to have the offense, don’t get me wrong,” Lawrence said, “but I think maybe defense is a priority because you need more depth maybe on the defensive side of the ball.”