Miss. State secondary gets infusion of new faces and energy

STARKVILLE – When Corey Broomfield walks the halls of the Bryan Building football offices, he stares at the enlarged photographs of guys like Ashley Cooper, Walt Harris and Fred Smoot – former Mississippi State defensive backs who earned All-American honors.
Broomfield, a redshirt freshman cornerback, pictures himself being on that wall someday.
“We think about that every day,” he said. “We just talk about one day that’ll be us up there, we’ve just got to keep working hard and stuff.”
By “us,” Broomfield also means true freshman Johnthan Banks and redshirt freshman cornerback Louis Watson. Broomfield made his first career start last week, Banks his second. They had two interceptions each in a 27-6 win at Middle Tennessee State, and Broomfield was named the SEC’s Freshman of the Week.
Watson is a reserve cornerback who’s made one start.
“Good thing about it, they’re back for a long, long time, so they’ll get better,” defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said.
The strong showing by the young guys is an encouragement. The veterans have been beset by injuries, with free safety Zach Smith missing the last two games with a concussion, nickelback Wade Bonner missing the Georgia Tech game with a knee injury, and now senior cornerback Marcus Washington has banged up his shoulder.
Washington and Bonner are OK, while Smith is likely out the next two games. Even with them healthy, MSU’s secondary hasn’t been top notch. It ranks 10th in the SEC in pass defense, at 227.7 yards per game.
So the infusion of youth is a welcome sight.
“They’re coming along. They need to have another great week of practice,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “They took a good step forward last week, but far, far, far from where we need to be to get ourselves to a championship level.”
Mullen sure likes what he sees, though, particularly in Banks. The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder from East Webster High School came to MSU as a cornerback but has, out of necessity, been moved to free safety to spell Smith.
“Johnthan, with his ranginess and his athletic ability, can give you a multi-dimensional player back there,” Mullen said. “I think the more time he plays, the more experience he gets, the more comfortable he’s going to be in making plays.”
Torbush said both Banks and Broomfield have a “defensive back mentality,” especially Broomfield.
“You can jump on him one play, and he forgets about it and goes right about his business, and if he gets beat deep, he forgets about it,” Torbush said.
The unit has also gotten a boost from junior college transfer Maurice Langston, who made his first career start last week. He was suspended for the first three games due to legal issues.

Meet Mr. Tebow
This week, the young secondary’s challenge comes in the form of Tim Tebow, former Heisman Trophy winner and leader of the Florida Gators, who are the defending BCS champions and are No. 1 in the current BCS rankings.
Tebow seems to have recovered from the bad concussion he suffered against Kentucky on Sept. 26, but Arkansas got to him last week to the tune of six sacks in a 23-20 Florida win.
“Every chance you get to hit him, you try to get a good hit on him and try to confuse him, that’s all you can do,” Broomfield said.
Tebow is tops in the SEC in pass efficiency, having completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,032 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s rushed for 378 yards and five TDs.
To keep him even somewhat contained, MSU’s defensive backs will need to grow up a bit more this week.
“We just have to go and compete, we have to line up, do our assignments, know what our responsibilities are and try to stay in position to make plays,” safeties coach Tony Hughes said. “That’s all we can really do.”

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal