One of the positions on the MSU football team that generated a great deal of debate over their expectations and then performance for the 2012 season is the defense back position. Littered with preseason accolades and upperclassmen, this position group was easily the most trusted on the entire MSU football team coming in to 2012. But towards the end of the season, when MSU endured struggles against the tougher portion of the schedule, the defensive backfield seemingly struggled as well, giving up big plays on numerous occasions to Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, and Ole Miss: the four teams that State lost to this year.
So, this begs the question: were they good in 2012? Were they bad in 2012? Were their perceived struggles caused by the struggles of another part of the defense? I will let you all be the judges on that. For now, let's take a quick look at the individual stats for the 2012 season for the MSU defensive backfield.
As you would have expected at the beginning of the season, Whitley, Banks, Broomfield, and Slay led the way in accumulating statistics for the DB position. Slay's five interceptions were good enough for him to be tied at ninth overall in the nation in that category, while Banks' four were good enough to land him tied for 24. You can probably contribute an INT or two of Slay's to Johnthan Banks, as offenses tended to not want to throw his way most of the season, leaving Slay with additional opportunities to shine.
With all four DB starters this year potentially leaving after 2012 - Banks, Broomfield and Slay are seniors, Whitley to the draft, potentially - you could be looking at an entirely new defensive backfield for 2013, comprised mainly of the names you see falling below those four gentlemen in the stats chart. And for the record, I do not think that Whitley leaves, just throwing out that it is a possibility.
Although the individual statistics chart above gives us a good indication at the year each player had on his own, it does not give us a representation of how the unit fared as a whole against each opponent this season. Let's take a look at their performance as a group in each game this year.
|Opponent||Passing Offense Rank
(At Season's End)
|Yards Given Up||INTs|
|Jackson State||N/A (FCS)||156||2|
|South Alabama||N/A (FCS)||224||2|
Outside of the early shootout against Troy, the yards and lack of INTs certainly stick out for the four Bulldog losses - Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, and Ole Miss. One of the selling points of MSU's early season success was their ability to control the turnover margin, as they forced a good many and gave up few, if any at all. In those four losses late in the year, State was able to force only 2 turnovers through the air: a big difference from previous games in the season.
Many have speculated that the struggles of this position group at times could have been influenced by other contributing factors on the defense. One of those most noted by fans was the lack of a defensive pass rush this season. State ranked 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC in total sacks for the year with 18; the leader in sacks, South Carolina, had 40 total sacks on the year. Similarly, State also ranked next to last in tackles for loss with 62 total on the season; the leader in tackles for loss was Vanderbilt with 93. That lack of a pass rush can and perceptibly did have a direct effect on the coverage by MSU's DB's. Even the best DB's can only cover a WR so long before he works his way open, and opponents found that to be the case at times this season. Pointing out the defensive line's inability to create a rush does not free the DB's from being guilty of bad coverage, but it does shed some light on what may have caused the problems this season.
On the individual level, there is absolutely not way to discount the year that Banks had. Even with a bad knee for what we expect was the last half of the season, Banks - who added a Jim Thorpe Award to his trophy case just last night - still showed why he will be a first day draft choice in next April's NFL draft. Outside of Banks, though, the individual performances were not as impressive in my opinion, at least not compared to what was expected of this group at the onset of the 2012 campaign.
So, what do you guys think? Did State's DB's struggle this season, or could much of the blame fall on the pass rush? Or, are we simply judging them on too harsh of a scale? Or, did State just run up against some of the better offenses in the country? Tell us your thoughts.