Throughout the 2017 football season it was difficult to determine whether the bulldogs were really good or if they were just over rated. The start of the season showed strength on all sides of the ball with blowout victories in our first three contests to include LSU, which sent a message to many throughout the conference and the nation that Mississippi State is the real deal. Yet, back to back blowout losses to Georgia and Auburn quickly diminished any thoughts of a championship year or even a chance for the bulldogs to win the west in 2017
In both losses, the Bulldog’s secondary was burnt on multiple occasions showing a weakness in our secondary “Achilles’s heel” to say the least. Following the two losses the bulldogs had four clear cut victories, three by more than twenty points, but still showed weakness in covering receivers on deep routes. In the first quarter of the Texas A&M game there where two plays that would have been touch downs if it were not for the Aggie receivers not being able to make the catch. UMASS made several twenty yard completions and had the Bulldogs on upset alert for the better part of the game. “UMASS!” Why can we not fix this?
It became very clear in the Bama game late in the fourth quarter. Bama had already taken advantage of three blown coverages resulting in points which helped them stay close in the game. It was 3rd and 13 for Alabama, the Bulldogs blitzed and Jalen Hurts was headed to the turf when it happened. Coach Mullen called a time out before the snap. If this time out is not called, Bama would have been sitting at a fourth and 18 and would punt, but yet they are given additional life that Bama seldom needs. Coach Grantham who has used pressure all season to subdue SEC offenses dials-up one more call against the tired and seldom beaten down Alabama offensive line, and they were ready for it, throwing a short underneath route to a vacated field for an easy first down and nearly a thirty yard gain. It was then that everything became clear. The weakness in our secondary was not the lack of talent or inability to cover; it was the defensive scheme that has plagued us all season.
The phrase, “live by the sword; die by the sword,” was fitting for this situation but in our case it was, “live by the blitz; die by the blitz.” The Bama game for which we dominated on both sides of the ball for three and two third quarters, gave the bulldogs and their fans the most heartbreaking loss of the season. It is impossible to cover the down field pass when you are crossing the line of scrimmage to put pressure on the quarterback. The linebackers and safety blitz’s left openings for uncovered receivers, the numbers did not add up. We had more route runners than defensive backs to cover, it’s as simple as that, a risk on every play that Grantham was willing to take and for the most part worked, yet an unnecessary risk with the talent we have.
During the Taxslayer Bowl against one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country and the 2016 Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson, the defensive back field was solid combining for four interceptions, three from junior safety Mark McLaurin, and one from red-shirt freshman corner, Cameron Dantzler. Yet it was not just the interceptions that stood out, it was the play of the entire secondary throughout the game with multiple pass break-ups and off the edge tackles. This secondary will be a major strength for the Bulldogs in the 2018 campaign and a major reason Mississippi State will compete for a SEC title next season and possibly a playoff spot. “Hail State”