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From State to the Pro Bowl

These Mississippi State football players will be participating in the 2018 Pro Bowl.

Hunter Martin Photography

In preparation for the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl LII, let’s take a look back at one of the more underrated aspects of State’s success over the past decade. Defense. Yeah, chicks dig the long ball and explosive plays but defense wins games and ultimately championships. Dan Mullen instantly brought an explosive offense to Starkville, even making a Two-Star recruit in Chris Relf look like a polished veteran. The Bulldogs have consistently ranked in the top 20 in the country in total defense and when the lack of talent on offense would rear its ugly head, the defense always stood strong with a solid bend but don’t break philosophy.

With that being said, State’s offensive numbers were unquestionably strong with defensive coordinators and coaches alike having to now take a deeper look into how to stop the once mediocre Bulldog offense. One thing, however, that seemed to always be overlooked by higher quality talent was the strength on the defensive side of the ball. The defense always seems to have a chip on their shoulder and plays up to their quality of competition, which sometimes can’t be said about the offense. The unquestioned strength of the defense has been the quality of defensive line play.

The sometimes gaudy numbers on the offensive side of the ball never fully translated into NFL caliber talent, minus the likes of Dak Prescott and Gabe Jackson, despite the success in the college ranks. The one cornerstone however, is the plethora of talent that State has put into the NFL on the defensive side. There’s no question that playing for a team with a constant chip on it’s shoulder and little respect from other teams helps to build a work ethic and character that suits well for success at the next level.

Let’s take a look at just what that extra motivation has done to propel some State legends into stars on Sundays. The first player that comes to mind is Pernell McPhee. He was a wiry Four star recruit that arrived to campus with literally a trash bag full of his belongings, the perfect example of someone with everything to prove. Now he is the highest paid player on the Bears defense and a Pro-Bowler. Another absolute stud is Fletcher Cox. A big time recruit to Starkville that asserted himself on the defensive front, who has now propelled himself to an All Pro, Pro Bowler, and owns the largest guaranteed contract of non-quarterbacks. KJ Wright is another prime example of size, speed, and the smarts to be named a Co-Captain of the once vaunted Seahawks defense. Bernardrick McKinney is in the same mold as Wright, same intangibles, and same work ethic to be a captain of a defense that boasts JJ Watt, JaDeveon Clowney, and Brian Cushing. Preston Smith burst onto the scene his senior year with ridiculous numbers, and was named the Rookie of the Year for the Redskins, and former Five star recruit Chris Jones has made a noticeable and immediate impact on the Redskins, while also outplaying his former recruiting counterpart from the school up north, Robert Nkemdiche.

Possibly the most exciting former Dawg is Darius Slay. While he was almost overshadowed by Thorpe award winner Johnthan Banks, Slay has emerged as a top tier NFL cornerback. He led the league in interceptions, was top ten in pass breakups, and is now heading to the Pro Bowl. It is exciting to watch almost any game on Sundays and see a former Dawg on defense leading his team and playing at a Pro Bowl level that used to be few and far between for former Bulldogs.

Now let’s transition to the 2018 season. Our newest Defensive Coordinator Bob Schoop has more talent to work with as a whole than most of our former coordinators of the past. Schoop has great experience at Penn State when he coached three NFL quality linemen all on the same team. He has that same talent at State for his first season. Montez Sweat surprised a lot of people when he announced his return for his Senior Season. Sweat ranked in the top 15 of all linemen in pass rush efficiency in his first year in Starkville, and will only get bigger and stronger for his senior year, which should bolster his first round status for the 2019 NFL Draft. Then we have an absolute beast in Jeffrey Simmons. The beginning of his career in Starkville was mired in controversy, rightly so, but he has turned himself around and carried himself well of the field, while dominating any offensive lineman who dares to line up one on one. He is a sure-fire first round pick next year, and will be sure to disrupt NFL QBs for many years to come to ensure the long line of great defensive players from Mississippi State.

I know the college football season is a long way off, but it doesn’t hurt to reflect on the absurd amount of talent Dan Mullen left us, and Moorhead has secured during the early signing period. I didn’t think anyone could honestly get us any higher than Dan, but from what I have learned about Joe, I think we are in excellent hands, and are now ready to take that next step. We have it all now, an explosive offense full of studs, a defense that fears no one, and finally a special teams that isn’t afraid to do their job.

Hail State and Moor Cowbell.