By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State had four sacks of Louisiana Tech quarterback Nick Isham on Saturday, and three of them were by defensive backs. The linebackers had none.
MSU has eight sacks on the year, and just one is by a linebacker, junior Cam Lawrence. The Bulldogs don’t seem overly concerned about those numbers, though.
“A lot of the blitzes we dialed up, we sent a lot of safeties and stuff, and corner blitzes,” said middle linebacker Brandon Wilson, who had 18 tackles on Saturday. “It was our role this past game of what they did, they got their sacks. It’s always talk that we have to continue to improve and get more tackle-for-losses.”
If anything, coaches were glad to see the secondary step up after being asked last week to shoulder more responsibility. It’s no secret the linebackers are in rebuilding mode, so some help on the back end is invaluable.
In the 26-20 win over Louisiana Tech, cornerback Johnthan Banks and safety Nickoe Whitley both had key interceptions late in the game. Banks had a sack, as did safeties Wade Bonner and Charles Mitchell.
“It’s huge, because obviously at the end of the day you’re out there to make big plays,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “So often you’re out there to prevent them, but it was nice to go out there and see guys make big plays. And that’s the thing that we’ve been missing the last few weeks, going out and generating some turnovers, those big plays.”
MSU fared well in time of possession last season, ranking first in the SEC with an average of 31 minutes, 32 seconds per game. So far this fall, State is 10th at 26:51.
That statistic can mean different things to different teams at different times. With the Bulldogs using a more up-tempo approach this year, time of possession is not as big a factor to Mullen.
Eleven of MSU’s 13 offensive touchdown drives this year have taken less than three minutes.
“I view it more on number of plays, and are we staying on the field on offense, and are we getting off the field on defense, more than actually the clock time,” Mullen said. “How it relates to those two things. We played Memphis, we didn’t have much time of possession, but we were scoring a lot of points. It didn’t have relevancy in that game.”
Boyd, Cox face test
MSU’s defensive line depends heavily on junior tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox. Those two weren’t quite up to par against Louisiana Tech, combining for nine tackles but no tackles-for-loss or sacks.
“First of all, they played well,” Chris Wilson said. “But our expectation, standards for them are really, really high.”
Wilson then pointed out that Tech’s offensive scheme often kept ball carriers out of range for Boyd and Cox, and this week’s game at Georgia will provide them with a more direct challenge. UGA has a more traditional offense and has a strong running back in freshman Isaiah Crowell.
“They’re going to run and pound you inside, run lead, run powers or run those things where your defensive tackles have to count,” Wilson said. “I think this will be a real good test for them and to see where we’re really at.”