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WMD's Battle for the Golden Egg Preview: Defense

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How do the 2014 Battle for the Golden Egg Defenses stack up?

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Peeps, the Battle for the Golden Egg has arrived. And yes, that is the proper name for this rivalry. The "Egg Bowl" name was started by that other school. I'm going to do my part in bring back the true name and hope you will as will. Now, I'll get off my soapbox. What you really want to know is how do the MSU and TSUN defenses compare? Let's take a look:

DE:

MSU: The Dawgs are strong at DE. Preston Smith is the first player in SEC history to win the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week three times. He's 4th in the SEC in TFLs with 13.5 and 6th in sacks with 8. He also has 15 QB hurries (QBH) and 2 forced fumbles. Ryan Brown is the starter on the other side. He's quietly put together a very good 2014 campaign in his own right with 6 TFLs and 3.5 sacks along with 10 QBH.

Behind them, State has AJ Jefferson and Nelson Adams. Both have been very solid this season. Jefferson is a good pass rushing threat, compiling 5.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and 9 QBH. Nelson Adams is more of a run stopper at DE, but has shown flashes of pass rush ability with 1.5 sacks and 5 QBH. Super sophomore Chris Jones also sees some time at DE - more on him shortly.

TSUN: The Black Bears will start CJ Johnson and Fadol Brown. Johnson is having a nice year and generated 3.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 2 QBH. On the other end, Brown has been a slightly more effective pass rusher with 4.5 TFLs, .5 sack, and 5 QBH.

Behind Jonson and Brown, the BearSharks will use Marquis Haynes, Channing Ward, John Youngblood, and Carlos Thompson. Haynes, a true freshman, is their pass rush specialist. He's got an eye opening 7.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, 7 QBH, and 3 forced fumbles. Ward has been effective in 2014 with 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 QBH, and 3 forced fumbles. Youngblood appears to be more of a run stopping DE with just 1 TFL, 1 sack, and 3 QBH. Thompson is similar with 2.5 TFLs, 0 sacks, and 2 QBH.

Edge: WMD says this goes to State, but it's close. I didn't realize Haynes had been so good. The kid can flat play. But it's hard to beat the season of MSU's DEs in 2014. None of the regular 4 have fewer than 5 QBH, so they're generating good pressure off the edge.

DT:

MSU: Defensive tackle is arguably the biggest strength of MSU's D, and that's saying something. This group has been outright nasty this season and is led by starters PJ Jones and Kaleb Eulls. PJ is a primarily a run stopper in the middle with just 1 TFL, 1 sack, and 2 QBH. Eulls is also a very good run stopper, but has shown flashes of pass rush ability in the middle, collecting 3 TFL, 3 sacks, and 1 QBH.

Behind PJ & Eulls, the Dawgs regularly rotate Nick James, Curtis Virges, and Chris Jones. Nick James is the epitome of a run stopper. He doesn't have huge numbers, but that isn't his role. What James does is eat up 2-3 OL regularly, freeing up his teammates to make plays. And for a big guy that's a true 3-4 NT at 6'5 and 325, he's managed to generate 3 QBH while playing the fewest snaps of anyone in the DT rotation. Virges has been good this season, showing a good balance between run stopper and pass rusher. Much like Eulls, he's a run stopper with flashes of pass rush ability, gathering 3 QBH. Chris Jones is the monster of the group. He's followed up a freshman All-American campaign with an impressive 2014, producing 3.5 TFL, 3 sacks, and a crazy 8 QBH. This kid is essentially unblockable when he wants to be and demands a double team the vast majority of the time.

TSUN: The Confederates are strong at DT as well, although they're a bit undersized. They'll start Isaac Gross and Robert Nkemdiche (Kimdeechee) in the middle. Gross is a DE that's been forced to play DT at just 250 pounds. But to his credit, he plays bigger than 250 and hasn't complained. He's a good pass rusher up the middle and has 6 TFLs and 2 QBH in 2014. Kimdeechee has followed up his freshman All-American campaign with a rather disappointing 2014, if you're being honest. Heralded as an elite pass rusher, Kimdeeche has managed just 2 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 1 QBH.

Behind Gross & Kimdeechee, the BearSharks will play Lavon Hooks, Byron Bennett, and Woodrow Hamilton. Hooks has provided some desperately needed girth up front at 310 pounds. After the usual first season JUCO adjustment, Hooks has put together a nice 2014 for the Bears, delivering 6.5 TFLs and 2 sacks. Bennett is a DE/DT tweener similar to Kimdeechee, but has produced a better 2014. He's managed 4 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 2 QBH. Hamilton, a freshman, is another huge body at 310. He's shown flashes of being a productive player and a good run stopper. He's got .5 TFL to his credit this season.

Edge: WMD says MSU buy a whisker. The emergence of Hooks for the BearSharks made this close, as he's provided them both size and production. But the production level of Eulls, CJ, and Virges tips the scales for me.

LB:

MSU: State's LB corps is among the elite groups in the nation, starting Benardrick McKinney, Beniquez Brown, and Matt Wells. McKinney is a lock to be drafted in the first round of the upcoming 2015 Draft and widely regarded as the best LB in the SEC. He's currently leading the team in total tackles for the third straight season. McKinney has also improved his rushing abilities this season producing 7.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 3 QBH, and a forced fumble. Beni Brown has been the brain of the MSU defense. He's a film junkie, and it has shown on the field this season. His play recognition has been off the charts. He's currently tied for second on the team in total tackles and collected 6.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 3 QBH, and 1 INT. Matt Wells is the prototypical LB/S hybrid and one of the fastest players on the team with a 4.3 40 yard dash. He's capped his career with an outstanding 2014 campaign racking up 8.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 6 QBH, and a forced fumble. He's also tied for first on the team with 8 passes broken up.

Behind that group, the Dawgs will play Christian "Turtle" Holmes, Richie Brown, and Zach Jackson. Turtle has been a big surprise for MSU this season. He's currently tied for second on the team in total tackles and has 2 TFLs. But most notably, he's got a pick six and a kickoff return TD to his credit. Richie Brown has been very good in his sophomore campaign. He's more of a run stopping LB than a rusher, but he's been good in coverage, too. Richie is tied for the team lead with 3 INTs in 2014. Zach Jackson has been a little inconsistent this season. Another hybrid LB/S type of player, he hasn't put up big numbers although he does have 1 forced fumble.

TSUN: The BearSharks start Serderius Bryant and DT Shackleford at LB. Bryant is having another very good year with 6.5 TFLs, 1 QBH and 1 INT. DT has bounced back from yet another injury that cost him the 2013 season. This year's Chucky Mullins Spirit Award winner, he's put together a tremendous season with 5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery.

Behind them, expect to see Keith Lewis, Christian Russell, and DeMarquis Gates. None of that group have put up big numbers, although Lewis has a bunch of total tackles. 1.5 TFLs and 1 fumble recovery for Lewis, .5 TFL and 2 QBH for Russell, and 1 forced fumble for Gates.

Edge: The Dawgs take this and it isn't close. Don't get me wrong, Bryant and Shackleford are both very, very good players. And Lewis is a solid backup guy. But State's group is bigger and deeper. Plus the production is heavily in State's favor.

CBs:

MSU: State starts Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love at the corners. Calhoun has developed into one of the SEC's best corners. He's rarely been picked on this season, as opposing QBs have thrown away from him. Yet he's still tied for second on the team with 7 passes broken up. Love is a bit small but very fast. He's been picked on at times this season due to his height, but he's held his own most of the time. He's tied for the team lead with 8 passes broken up.

The Dawgs will also frequently use Will Redmond and Tolando Cleveland. Redmond has arguably developed into State's best CB over the course of the season. He's got 4 break ups to his credit so far this season. Cleveland is a guy who's improved as the season has progressed. He's yet another big, physical CB who continues State's recent trend at that position. Just a sophomore, he's quietly put together a solid 2014 season and has 2 TFLs, 2 INTs, and 7 break ups to his credit.

TSUN: The BearSharks will start Senquez Golson and Mike Hilton. Golson has been ridiculous in 2014, compiling 3 TFLs, 7 break ups, and an eye-popping 9 INTs. You just don't pick on him. Hilton has been very good for the BearSharks as well. He's their team leader in total tackles and has 4 TFLs, 3 INTs, and 7 break ups to go with them. They are a very, very good tandem.

Behind them, TSUN will use Cliff Coleman and Kendarius Webster. Coleman has been a quality backup and has 1 TFL, 1 INT, and 4 break ups. Webster is a freshman but has been quietly solid. His numbers aren't that impressive, as he has just 2 break ups and no TFLs or INTs. But he has started 2 games this season, which tells me teams aren't throwing at him. That speaks volumes for such a young player.

Edge: TSUN. For me, this is almost a dead heat. I think State's depth is better with Redmond and Cleveland. But Golson and Hilton are about as good as it gets in college football. Golson's 9 INTs in a single season is just insane and that tips the scales in the Confederates' favor in my book.

S:

MSU: Kendrick Market and Jay Hughes will be the starters for State. Market is a junior who flies under the radar and quietly makes plays. He's tied for third on the team in total tackles and has 1.5 TFLs. Hughes has put together a good senior season after returning from an Achilles' tendon rupture in the first game of the 2013 season. He has 2 INTs this season and returned a blocked FG for a touchdown.

State will rotate in Kivon Coleman and Deontay Evans behind Market and Hughes. Coleman has come on strong this season and has 6 break ups. Evans has been inconsistent in 2014 and teams like to go after him. To his credit, he has 1 TFL and 2 breakups.

TSUN: Trae Elston, Tony Conner, and Cody Prewitt start for the Confederates. Although Conner and Prewitt get all the hype, Elston is very good himself. He's got 3 TFLs, 3 break ups, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery in 2014. Conner is a future first round NFL draft pick. He's followed up a great true freshman season with an incredible 2014. He's tied for third on the team in total tackles with 6 TFLs, 2 QBH, 1 break up, and 1 INT. Prewitt has arguably been the best safety in college football this season. He's second on the team in total tackles with 3.5 TFLs, 2 break ups, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery.

Behind them, TSUN will play Mike Hilton, CJ Moore, CJ Hampton, AJ Moore, and David Kamara. We've already discussed Hilton, so no need to rehash him. CJ Moore and CJ Hampton have both played in every Bears game this season, but don't have much in the way of numbers. They're just quietly solid. AJ Moore has been good in his backup role and tallied 1.5 TFLs and 1 break up. Kamara has played in 10 of 11 games, but like Hampton & CJ Moore, hasn't really impacted the stat sheet.

Edge: TSUN by a wide margin. The Confederates have two NFL starters at S and Elston is far from a slouch. AJ Moore, just a freshman, has shown he'll be a very good player for them too. State doesn't have anyone in the same class as the 3 starters for TSUN.

KO:

MSU: Logan Cooke handles KO duties for the Dawgs. He's kicked off 47 times this season and has 14 TBs. He's averaging 61.9 YPK. State is 12th nationally in KO Return D. The Dawgs have allowed 52 returns for 917 yards, but opponents average just 17.63 YPR.

TSUN: Gary Wunderlich handles KO duties for the Confederates. He's kicked off 35 times and has 13 TBs. He's averaging 62.5 YPK. TSUN is 50th nationally in KO Return D, allowing 40 returns for 807 yards and 20.18 YPR.

Edge: State. Despite kicking off 12 more times, the Dawgs allow nearly a full 3 yards fewer per return. That's nuts.

P:

MSU: Devon Bel will punt for State. He's punted 41 times and averages 42.5 YPP. He's forced 11 fair catches and pinned opponents inside the 20 13 times. State is 48th nationally in Punt Return D allowing only 6.23 YPR.

TSUN: Will Gleeson punts for TSUN. He's punted 43 times and averages 43.6 YPP. He's forced 7 fair catches and pinned opponents inside the 20 a crazy 21 times. TSUN is 13th nationally in Punt Return D allowing a measly 3.53 YPR.

Edge: TSUN. Gleeson has a better average than Bell and has pinned opponents inside the 20 on nearly 50% of his punts. The Bearsharks also allow nearly 3 full yards fewer per return than State.

WMD's Final Thoughts: Both defenses are salty. While State is better in the front 7, TSUN is much better in the secondary. The teams are different schematically, with State running a base 4-3 and TSUN running a base 4-2-5. Both teams are near the top of the nation in Scoring D. State is decidedly better at Red Zone D, leading the nation in that category. TSUN isn't bad at Red Zone D, though, as they are top 30 nationally themselves. Both teams love to bring pressure and are good at creating chaos. TSUN is much better at creating turnovers, however. I don't see TSUN being successful running the ball against State, meaning the Dawgs should be able to pin their ears back and tee off on BearShark QBs. On the flip side, Dak will have to be extra careful putting the ball in the air on this Confederate secondary. They are always lurking and excel at creating INTs. Overall, I'd say these defenses are about as close to even as they come. The differing strengths and styles makes an interesting contrast. I would say State is probably a bit deeper, however.

That's what I see looking at these defenses. Both are better than the units from 2013 and points could be at a premium on Saturday. What's your take?

In Mullen We Trust,

WMD