A Q&A With Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz talks about Pernell McPhee, Michigan QB Denard Robinson, the MSU veterans, etc.

What have the NFL scouts said about Pernell McPhee during the season?
"It has been a positive reception. He's a guy that they have been watching all year and been asking about all year. I think what shows up on film for McPhee - and really a lot of credit goes to Chris Wilson on this - they are finding him to be more of a technician now. They really see that he is playing with a lot better technique and fundamentals and learning how to become a defensive end. We tell the scouts that Pernell McPhee was not a big man his entire life. He went to Itawamba (CC) 218 pounds, so it's not like he has been walking the earth as an SEC defensive end from the time he was in the ninth grade. There is still a lot of upside for Pernell McPhee. I wish we had him for another year."

What is McPhee's key when he goes against Michigan QB Denard Robinson?
"The first key with McPhee is he has to be one of the bricks in the wall. With what they do in their run game when they run him, you have to build a wall. You have to build your wall with whichever way they try to block it. The way you dominate this game is you have to be discipline. Everybody really has to do their roles. If everybody does their role, then I believe we will be where we need to be and make the tackle for loss or the big play. The second key is if we can get them into a passing situation he is a hard guy to sack. So, when you get back there you have time getting the guy on the ground. But your best athletes are the guys who have to help you and that is where a guy like McPhee who has some athleticism can help us get the guy to the ground."

How have the veterans looked in practice the last couple of weeks?
"It's funny, when you put most of the veterans back in practice, it's amazing how much better that is for my voice (smile) because suddenly practice is so much easier because they get it. And having a guy like Charles Mitchell on the back end to erase whatever mistakes we make up front. The thing that is going to be our major theme in the spring is our junior class - Boyd, Cox, Broomfield, Banks, those type guys - will have to take a big role now. They really have to take a big step up. For me, we see it in flashes but I don't see we see it all the way, but maybe when the seniors finally walk out the door they will realize that they have to be our top guys next year."

In the last week or two are any of the underclassmen trying to take the vocal leadership role that Chris (White) and K.J. (Wright) have?
"I will say this, I think the guys have some respect for Brandon Wilson and what he has done behind Chris White on the inside. And another guy is Wade Bonner. What he did to stake a role on this team - a guy who barely played in September to being a starter by November - is impressive. Those are two guys who you have seen step up. But to answer your question, I don't think we have a tried and true certified leader."

How has your defense prepared for Denard Robinson?
"Jameon Lewis gives us a great look, he is very shifty. But I don't know if we can do anything to simulate the speed that Denard has. And that is always the biggest concern in a bowl game no matter who you are playing. You go a month without game football speed. And with Denard, you only have to be surprised once or twice and it's 14-0. I won't know until we go out there to know if we are up to game speed. But we have to be on the first play. He carried the ball 240 times this year. It's no secret who is going to run the ball for them. If we make a mistake, then look out."

It is unfair for people to think that you can watch the Auburn tape and use that to stop Robinson?
"Yeah, they are a different offense, a different dynamic. How Auburn tried to attack you and what Michigan does is different. It's the spread but there are 8 million different ways of calling it the spread. You can look at their numbers. There is a reason why Robinson set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback. They run him a lot more than Auburn runs Cam Newton."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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