BRAD LOCKE: Challenges confront Bulldogs’ defense

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi State’s defense is an enigma. Statistically speaking, the Bulldogs look to be pretty stout.
They rank 28th in the country in total defense, 15th in scoring defense, 21st in pass efficiency defense, and sixth in turnover margin. Good overall numbers, but if that’s all you look at, then you can easily overlook the blemishes.
And this defense has blemishes.
As good as MSU’s defense has been statistically, it’s typically struggled against really good offenses. Like last year against Arkansas, when the Bulldogs were burned for 539 yards.
Last weekend, Alabama had 21 points less than 17 minutes into the game.
Against Troy, MSU gave up what’s so far a season-high 572 yards, including 223 on the ground. Tackling was poor, and the Bulldogs seemed generally unprepared for that fast-paced attack.
Against Tennessee, MSU did a great job against quarterback Tyler Bray and his NFL-quality receivers, but the Volunteers gashed State in the run game for 213 yards.
You could argue that was a result of selling out to stop the pass, but all those yards after contact tell another story. Again, tackling was poor.
This has not been a defense that’s done a lot of attacking, and it’s clear that coordinator Chris Wilson, in his second season, has dialed it back from what predecessor Manny Diaz used to do. Why Wilson has done so, I don’t know, and I’ve never gotten a straightforward explanation for that.
MSU has recorded only 13 sacks in eight games, which ranks 13th in the SEC. Senior tackle Josh Boyd hasn’t been as effective since moving from nose guard to Fletcher Cox’s old tackle spot. After recording 4.5 sacks last year, Boyd has just one this season.
All of this reflects poorly on Wilson. I’m not saying he isn’t good at his job, but these next four games could become a referendum on Wilson’s acumen as a defensive coordinator:
• Texas A&M is the most prolific offense in the SEC and is led by freshman phenom Johnny Manziel, a dual-threat quarterback.
• LSU has had issues, but it still ranks third in the league in rushing offense.
• Arkansas leads the SEC in passing offense, and QB Tyler Wilson is a future pro.
• Ole Miss, under new coach Hugh Freeze, ranks in the top six in all four major offensive categories.
If this MSU defense doesn’t tighten up right now, it’s going to be a long November.

Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.