By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State’s defense has been tackling a troublesome issue this week.
The No. 22 Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2 SEC) have lost two games in a row, to Alabama and Texas A&M, and a big reason for those losses was poor tackling.
Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said there were close to 30 missed tackles against Texas A&M, which piled up 693 yards of offense. According to co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, the Aggies gained about 300 yards after contact.
“We know we’ve got to go tackle better,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to be in better positions to make plays, and when you look at it overall, the biggest thing is fundamentals. Going back to fundamentals, tackling.”
Wilson added that he didn’t think physical toughness has been an issue with this team. But tackling has been a recurring issue, and it was evident earlier this season against Troy and Tennessee, who combined to rush for 436 yards against MSU.
Collins has taken it upon himself to make sure tackling improves in practice this week.
“I’ve got to do a better job of teaching tackling, and I think the kids are doing the same thing, too,” he said. “How can I improve as a tackler? I know coach is telling me all of these things, how can I do better? As long as we’re all in this mindset, it’ll improve.”
Linebacker Cam Lawrence said the Bulldogs do a “tackle circle” every Monday for about 15 minutes, and he likes what he’s seen so far in practices this week.
“We’ve been coming to practice every day, we’ve been really aggressive,” Lawrence said. “We’ve been hitting our scout team running backs pretty hard.”
MSU hopes that translates to this weekend when it travels to Baton Rouge to battle No. 9 LSU (7-2, 3-2), which has a strong reputation as a physical team. The Tigers, who are coming off a 21-17 loss to Alabama, have a hard-nosed running game featuring several backs and a big offensive line.
Last game, MSU head coach Dan Mullen said players were “pulling up early” on tackles. LSU will feast on that sort of timidness.
“The big thing that we stress all the time, the thing that coach Mullen stresses all the time, is just run through every tackle,” Collins said. “Because if you run through every tackle, they will stop their feet, and the rest of the guys can come and make the play and clean it up for you.”
Leading tackler Benardrick McKinney said the issue is “more mental” because it’s later in the season. Lawrence said he isn’t sure what’s caused the tackling issue, but what matters is getting it fixed.
“Tackling, it’s kind of a personal thing,” Lawrence said. “It’s whatever works best for you. The way I see it, there’s no wrong way to tackle as long as you get the guy on the ground.”