By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Inside Mississippi State Sports with Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has won the turnover battle in resounding fashion each week, and that has a lot to do with its 3-0 start.
The No. 23-ranked Bulldogs have forced 12 turnovers, which is tied with Alabama and Kansas for most in the country, and their plus-11 turnover margin is also tied for first (with Alabama).
“As long as we can be positive in that area, then we have a great chance of winning,” MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said at Monday’s press conference.
MSU’s coaches study how the turnovers come to be, whether it’s a defender making a great play or an opponent being forced into a bad decision.
They’ve found that mainly it’s just due to running hard to the football. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson pointed to a fumble recovery by Darius Slay on a punt return in Saturday’s win over Troy.
“When you’re around the ball, great things really, really happen,” Wilson said.
Slay, a cornerback, also had two interceptions against Troy, which committed four turnovers.
MSU turned those into 20 points in a 30-24 win.
“I don’t know if a lot of our turnovers have been through guys just making spectacular plays,” coach Dan Mullen said, “it’s been our guys running to the football and being where they’re supposed to be and playing hard, has been the main (cause) of those turnovers, and that’s something we want to continue.
“A general rule of the defense: If you run hard to the football, good things will happen.”
Heading into this season, MSU was plus-1 in turnover margin through the first three seasons of Mullen’s tenure. The stats have borne out the adage that winning the turnover margin means winning the game: MSU is 19-1 under Mullen when on the positive side.
Besides creating turnovers, State has taken very good care of the ball. The lone turnover so far was receiver Chris Smith’s fumble against Auburn.
Quarterback Tyler Russell has thrown no interceptions in 79 pass attempts. He said there’s a good reason for that.
“Going against our defense every day, (Johnthan) Banks and Slay on one side – you find out real quick what you can do,” Russell said. “If you can do it against them, you can do it in the game. The things you can’t, you don’t really need to try during the game.”