By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Geoff Collins took the reins of Mississippi State’s defense in Tuesday’s Gator Bowl, and he seemed quite comfortable in the role.
Collins is MSU’s co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson normally sends in the defensive play calls, but head coach Dan Mullen said he wanted to see how Collins would handle it.
State lost to Northwestern, 34-20, but it was the defense keeping the game close while quarterback Tyler Russell was throwing four interceptions.
“We struggled against some spread teams and tempo in the past. So I wanted to try something different,” Mullen said. “Give Geoff an opportunity to call the game.”
Collins said the change was partly due to the departure of cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith, who took a job at Auburn just before the Bulldogs arrived here to resume preparations.
“Melvin was in charge of substitutions most of the time, and we do a lot of substituting with the defensive line,” Collins said. “He was just letting me call it and Chris handle the defensive line substitutions. For the most part it was good.”
It wasn’t the only adjustment MSU had to make this past week. Safeties coach Tony Hughes took over Smith’s duties with the cornerbacks.
Northwestern finished the game with 357 total yards, including 161 rushing. That’s 70 yards below NU’s rushing average entering the game.
Mobile quarterback Kain Colter didn’t give MSU too much trouble, except for a 31-yard scramble to set up a touchdown in the third quarter. The Wildcats committed three turnovers, all interceptions.
State was trailing 13-0 in the first half when the defense tightened up, forcing an interception and three punts on Northwestern’s final four possessions before halftime.
NU threw two interceptions in the third quarter but also scored two touchdowns that period.
Safety Nickoe Whitley said Collins had been calling plays in practice all week, so it wasn’t much of an adjustment for the players.
“It wasn’t really different,” Whitley said. “We’re always still going to have to look to the sideline to get the call no matter who’s calling it.”
Defensive end Denico Autry, who had an interception and five tackles, said the defense felt good about the way it was playing at halftime, when Northwestern led 13-10.
“We thought we were going to come back out and take over, but things didn’t happen that way,” Autry said.
Still, it was a solid play-calling debut for Collins. Will he continue with this role next season?
“I’m just happy to be a part of Mississippi State football program,” Collins said. “I love Chris Wilson, I love Tony Hughes, I love Dan Mullen. I’m just happy to be here.”
Mullen didn’t rule it out.
“I’m going to evaluate that as we move forward,” he said. “I’ll see where we’re at.”