Dan Mullen has had a lot of defensive coordinators. And we've seen several different approaches to defenses from each of these different coordinators. But all of those approaches have come under a 4-3 scheme.
Peter Sirmon is doing a complete overhaul, more or less, and is changing things up to a 3-4 scheme. It makes sense. Mississippi State has quite a few talented linebackers on this team and there's some questions about how the defensive line will play with the loss of Chris Jones. Why not switch to a system where you have your strongest position group featured the most?
But how successful will Sirmon's defense be? To determine that, let's examine some of the other defenses that we've seen in Starkville during the Dan Mullen era.
Starting with how many yards they've surrendered:
Now let's look at how many touchdowns they've given up:
And finally, how many turnovers they've forced:
"So Ethan, some of these numbers don't look as good as the offensive comparison piece you wrote where our offenses keep getting better, what should we make of this data?"
I'm glad you asked. Here's my thoughts:
Although it's just a slight upward trend, it's still concerning to see our defense regressing
"But ETHAN! Our defense isn't getting worse! SEC offenses are getting better but MSU isn't surrendering a growing number of touchdowns."
And you're right, SEC offenses are SIGNIFICANTLY better now than when Mullen first entered the league as a head coach. Ours is the perfect example of how far SEC offenses have come. And you would be correct, the number of touchdowns we've surrendered per season is slowly decreasing and has been since 2013.
But we are surrendering more and more yards per season. Outside of 2013, each of the past four seasons we have given up over 5000 yards to our opponents. In fact, the 2014 defense gave up over 1000 more yards to its opponents than the 2014 team did.
And we only recovered a lone fumble in 2015. One. Single. Fumble. That's it. Our defense peaked at forcing turnovers in 2012 and has been trending downward significantly ever since. We forced 33 total turnovers in 2012. This past season we forced 14. That's an average decrease of 4.75 turnovers per year.
We can't win games like that. Not without Dak Prescott to help mask any mistake our defense makes. Our offense likely won't be as productive in 2016. We'll need a stronger defensive effort this season.
And so, what does Peter Sirmon have to do for this defense to be successful?
I don't think that Sirmon's defense has to be anything revolutionary. It doesn't have to be anything huge or spectacular and force 3000 interceptions. But it does need to start reversing some of these trends.
That does start with turnovers. That starts with forcing defenses to make mistakes. That's something Manny Diaz's squad didn't do too much this past season. If Sirmon's squad can force 20 or more turnovers, then it's on the right course. From there, as long as his defense doesn't surrender more than 4900 yards or 30 touchdowns, I would consider this season's defense to be an incredibly successful one.
It would be a complete reversal of the trends that Mississippi State's defense has fallen into the past few years and would give the Bulldogs a fighting chance to get to 8 or 9 wins this season. Dan Mullen's offense is going to need some help from Peter Sirmon's defense this year. Hopefully he can get it.