Day for defense at MSU

BY GREGG ELLIS
Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Points were at a premium. High-dollar value, you might say.

But on the last play of Saturday's annual spring game at Scott Field, the Maroon team finally awoke the scorekeeper when Chris Relf connected with Co-Eric Riley on a 25-yard scoring strike in overtime for the 6-0 victory.

Defensively speaking, it was the lone mistake of the overcast afternoon, where an estimated 5,500 fans were on hand for a preview of next fall.

The Bulldogs' D grabbed four interceptions, forced a fumble, registered seven sacks and totaled 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

It was the intensity first-year coordinator Charlie Harbison expected.

That intensity, though, wasn't limited to just Saturday's scrimmage. It's been that way all spring, a trait he attributes to a high number of veteran players on his side of the football.

“I think we got everything accomplished,” he said of Mississippi State's 15 allotted practices. “And a lot of that was the team having a great attitude and not being selfish. It's oneness.

“I want everybody thinking they're a bell cow, because it's a team. It's not offense, defense, special teams. It's one unit, one heartbeat. That's how I look at it.”

After replacing Ellis Johnson back in January, Harbison said the defense would look much the same as it has the previous five seasons, with a few tweaks here and there.

The key, he noted, was to avoid complicated schemes. Playing to the strengths of his players was and is the goal.

And as Mississippi State now turns its attention to August drills, Harbison feels he's achieved just that.

“What we did this spring was a lot of base stuff,” he said. “That was the main focus, because once you get the base down, then you can win.

“The bottom line is making sure you do the fundamentals, to do the little things. Because if you start trying to build something too big too fast, you lose the framework, which is the fundamentals and understanding the format of the defense and everyone playing their responsibility.”

As for the transition between coordinators, senior linebacker Jamar Chaney said it's been rather seamless.

“It's been easy because we're doing a lot of the same stuff,” he said after being credited with four tackles in the spring game. “There are some new packages with more blitzes, but that's about it.

“Coach Cheese is a little more laid back, but I think that has a lot more to do with the number of starters back than anything.”

If there was a player that made great strides, Harbison said it was linebacker K.J. Wright.

As a true freshman, the Olive Branch product played in 10 games as a backup and special teams performer.

He finished with seven tackles, including two against both Arkansas and Ole Miss.

He had two on Saturday, including a sack.

“K.J. is a mature kid,” Harbison said. “We didn't have to push him too fast, and now going back through it, he's re-teaching himself and learning the little things that he might have overlooked.

“He learned the system as a freshman, and now he's building himself up to be a better player.”

The injury list and more
Held out of the scrimmage due to injuries were DE Tim Bailey, LB Karlin Brown, OL Johnny Carpenter, LB Dominic Douglas, RB Christian Ducre and FB Eric Hoskins.

Not present were LB Jamon Hughes, DT Rodney Prince and CB Anthony Johnson. When asked if their absence was related to Thursday's gunshot incident that led to felony charges and the arrest of Mike Brown and Quentin Wesley, MSU coach Sylvester Croom said, “You've got the rosters. Watch the film and figure it out for yourself.”