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2014 MSU football review: Defensive impressions after the regular season

We took some time to look back at a memorable 2014 Mississippi State football season as the end of the year nears. Today's question posed to our contributors as well as you, the reader, is "Even though we hyped this defense up this year, their numbers at the end weren't that great, at least against the pass. What is your impression of that side of the ball now that the regular season is over?"

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Even though we hyped this defense up this year, their numbers at the end weren't that great, at least against the pass. What is your impression of that side of the ball now that the regular season is over?

I'm mostly interested to see who Mullen hires to replace Geoff Collins. He's made two fantastic hires in Collins and Manny Diaz, but can he pluck another mid-major gem from the ranks? As far as players go, I'm still concerned about the secondary. I'm also curious to see how replace Benardrick McKenny and Preston Smith goes. Without knowing just a ton about the younger guys, defense could be a problem in 2015. -

I'm going to have to disagree with part of the premise of the question. Yes, the numbers against the pass sucked. Bad. And yes, that was nowhere more obvious than during the last game of the season.

But let's not ignore what the defense did in most of its other eleven games. When it was on, it was dominant.

Need statistical proof? MSU's 2014 defense improved upon the fairly solid numbers it cultivated in 2013 in the following categories (per its SEC rank in conference play): scoring defense, opponents' yards-per-play, sacks-per-game, TFLs-per-game, passes-defended-per-game, opponents' third-down-conversion rate, and red-zone defense. And those last two weren't just mild improvements within the context of the conference. This year State was 13th in the nation in third-down-conversion defense, and 1st nationally in red zone defense.

Don't believe in those old-mannish metrics? Last year's D finished the season with a national F/+ ranking of 19. At the end of the 2014 regular season, we're at number 9.

All that said, I totally agreed with Mullen blasting the defensive staff after the Egg Bowl. That performance was just plain embarrassing. Even though we were likely out of the playoff hunt anyway, to have the defense lay such a massive poo on the field when we're still technically in the national-title conversation is unacceptable. Whether it was lack of adjustment at half, lack of focus, or lack of preparation in general, it was just a freaking train wreck.

So while I'm certainly not one of those who think that losing Collins was a good thing, I understand that when the defense took its lumps, it took ‘em big, and at inopportune times. I'd say my opinion of the defense as a whole is that it was capable of amazing things, but that its weaknesses showed up more often than they should have. It was great at pressuring the quarterback and disrupting receivers, elite in the red zone and on third down, solid against the run, too pliable against the pass, and way, way too susceptible to the big play. -

College football has changed so much that thought of teams both going over 50 or scoring on half of their possessions is really not that surprising anymore. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the Mississippi State defense. They played hard, and in many games, they made the big plays that helped the Bulldogs win. That is what a good defense does.

Numbers can be misleading. The Bulldogs were destined to give up more yards and points because they scored often, giving the ball back to the other team. Teams were destined to throw for yards against this defense because that was the only way to attack the Bulldogs.

Could the passing defense have been better? Absolutely. However, I think the thing that let Mississippi State down the most in the loss to Ole Miss was poor fundamentals. That bothered me more than anything else with the defense this season. -

Run defense was very solid thanks to Benardrick McKinney and Co., pass defense was just bad. I think that's the simplest way to put it. -

Personally, I think the D was better than the numbers. The 1A/1B thing hurt a little bit, but it also helped us a lot. The passing numbers are a result of poor Safety play as much as anything. Justin Cox, for all the hype of him returning to his natural position, was subpar all year. Jay Hughes was predictably a step or so slower coming off the Achilles' injury. Kendrick Market was mostly solid, but had a couple of critical blown coverages. He's more of a run support safety than a coverage guy. Deontay Evans just isn't an SEC caliber player. Kivon Coman is young and predictably played that way. He'd do some really good things, then he'd do some really awful things. And like Market, I see him as more of a run supporter than a coverage type. Basically, failure to evaluate well and recruit at Safety came back to bite us.

I also think the D was a little hamstrung at times by competing defensive philosophies. Early in the season we were aggressive, attacking, and played downhill on D. We forced opponents into bad situations and made life hard. As the season progressed, we became more of a bend-but-don't-break philosophy. I don't know why that change occurred or who was ultimately responsible, but we clearly weren't as good with that approach. And to be fair, no defense that plays a read-and-react, bend-but-don't-break style will ever be as good as the aggressive, attacking style. Offenses are too good now and the rules, even at the college level, are trending more and more toward the offense. You have to force offenses into mistakes and we stopped doing that after the Auburn game. - 

To be honest I never had too much of a problem with the defense, I am fine with giving up a big play or two if I know we have the ability to come right back down the field and answer. However, there were two very disappointing defensive games this year for me. One of which had to be the UAB game (R.I.P) and the other is the Ole Miss game. The UAB game featured an 88 yard touchdown pass and the Ole Miss game we allowed several throws by Bo Wallace that were just horrendous. -

The secondary really hurt us this year. Way too many blown coverages by the safeties, and our cornerbacks really didn't have the year a lot of people predicted them to have. In their defense, a lot of the big pass plays given up has just as much to do with not getting pressure on the quarterback. You can only cover a receiver for so long. We only rushed 4 lineman too many times this season. You can do that if you have great pass rushers, but we only have one and that is Preston Smith. They should have been more aggressive blitzing the quarterback to force the ball out of his hands quickly. This defense has a lot of great players, and honestly I think they would have had a lot better season with a different scheme. -

I had a lot of frustration with the 1a-1b thing that Geoff kept trotting out there even when it did not work, but overall I know this defense was better than its numbers.  In that three game stretch where MSU won against LSU, A&M, and Auburn, they killed it, and were just as much a part of those big wins as the explosive offense.  I was mostly frustrated by MSU's poor, poor tackling against Ole Miss, and Collins' decision to cover Amari Cooper with a safety (?!?!) when we played Alabama.  But like my disappointment after the Egg Bowl, when I remove myself a bit further from the season and take things in as a whole, I realize that the defense was pretty good.  Yes, they had their flaws, but they showed out against LSU, A&M, Auburn, and Arkansas.  And in the redzone, they were dominant.  That really never changed.  If you can promise me a D will play like this one did inside the 20, I don't care what they allow for the other 80 yards.  Overall, a solid performance this year.

I will be curious to see where Dan turns to fill Geoff's spot as DC, though.  Will he go rehash (Manny Diaz), or will he look for fresh blood after State's bowl game?  I would honestly be happy with either, just get someone in here that is as fiery as Geoff and I think we'll be good.  Wouldn't hurt if he was the artist that Geoff was, either. -