The hire makes a lot of sense on paper. Collins was an important part of the two-loss regular season Mississippi State just completed.
This season, Collins was nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. His defense allowed 19.4 points, the fewest in his four years in Starkville. It was 25th in the country with 126.5 rushing yards allowed per game. The Bulldogs allowed just 11 runs of 20+ yards on the season, the 20th best in the country.
Mississippi State totaled 36 sacks this season, the 16th most in the country and the most since Dan Mullen took over the program. They also produced 22 turnovers during the regular season, the 38th best in college football.
But the most impressive numbers came in the red zone and on third downs. The Bulldogs were the best red zone defense in the country, allowing opponents to score on just 60 percent (24 of 40) of their trips inside the Mississippi State 20-yard line. Of those 40 trips the Bulldogs allowed opponents to take to the red zone, they allowed nine field goals and 15 touchdowns.
On third downs, Mississippi State allowed a 32.6 percent conversion rate, the 13th best in the country.
That number is even more impressive considering how bad the Bulldogs were at defending the pass. They ranked 125th in pass defense, allowing 285.2 yards per game through the air. Mississippi State ranked 107th in the country by allowing 45 passes of 20+ yards. As bad as the pass defense was on paper, the Bulldogs were 16th in the country with 15 interceptions on the year. Only Auburn, Kentucky and Ole Miss had more in the SEC.
The secondary struggles shouldn’t be a problem for Florida in 2015 under Collins. The Gators return plenty of talent in the secondary, led by All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Florida freshmen Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson played well during 2014 and return, plus Brian Poole could return for his senior year. It also makes it even more important for Florida to retain defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.
Collins’ time in Starkville is led by development. This year’s defense has many standouts, including a pair of former two-star recruits that Collins has developed.
Serving as the linebackers coach as well as the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, Collins coached linebacker Benardrick McKinney. The former two-star recruit led the Bulldogs defensively with 61 tackles, adding eight tackles for a loss, three sacks, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.
Preston Smith led the Bulldogs with nine sacks and 12 tackles for a loss this season. Another former two-star recruit, Smith is a bigger defensive end, listed at 6-6, 270 pounds.
The Bulldogs burst on the national scene in 2014, but Collins’ defense was also impressive in 2013. They ranked 33rd in scoring defense, allowing 23 points per game. Mississippi State ranked 38th in rush defense (144.2 yards) and 22nd in pass defense (205.2 yards) in 2013. They were also 35th in the country with 25 turnovers.
Collins held the co-defensive coordinator title in 2011 and 2012 at Mississippi State, but it was Chris Wilson who called plays and was in charge of the defense.
Collins spent one season at Florida International as the defensive coordinator in 2010. The year before Collins took over the Golden Panthers, they ranked 111th in the country by allowing 35.3 points. In his first season calling plays, he improved them to the 65th scoring defense that allowed 27.3 points. Collins’ unit was 32nd in pass defense (199.8 yards) and 77th in rush defense (169.1 yards).
He also brings recruiting ties to the state of Florida. Besides his year at FIU, Collins also served as the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at UCF from 2008-09.