"Got To Fix The Things We Know We Can Fix"

Yes, there are cues and clues to be gleaned from a couple days' defensive scouting. The key according to Chris Wilson is to react rightly. Or is it, not over-react? "This is a copy-cat league and if you have the personnel to execute a gameplan that is effective you're going to implement it," the coordinator said. "But you want to make sure it's you, it's what your kids can do."

So don't expect Mississippi State to apply exactly the same schemes as did other conference clubs which have had success slowing and at times even stopping Texas A&M's explosive offense. The Bulldogs will still be their own selves and adapt what they do best to fit expectations of the Aggies.

Even, Wilson said, after suffering the first setback of this season in a 38-7 defeat at Alabama. Fun, no. Informative, yes. "That game we learned a lot from," Wilson said. "It's not coming back, but hopefully it can propel us for these next four games. So we're excited about it."

About the opportunity to start another Mississippi State win streak, he means. Not that excitement was an automatic Sunday response to the first loss of the season. Even Monday morning there might have been some lingering letdown in the entire ball club…not that this was a negative sign necessarily per the defensive coordinator.

"Obviously as a staff and as a program we're disappointed. That's a good thing. I believe someone gave us a stat, we hadn't lost a game in 342 days. It makes you really go back and evaluate everything that you're doing from a coaching standpoint, a teaching standpoint, a player standpoint. And we've just got to be critical and fix the things we know we can fix. I believe knowing our guys' character, they'll be ready to come in and work."

Much MSU work is in store if the Aggie attack is to be kept under some semblance of control. Texas A&M's numbers are nigh-numbing at 46 points and 542 yards per game. Put in SEC context, they have snapped balls 635 times in eight games; South Carolina is a distant second at 589 offensive plays.

Such statistics aren't exactly new to Wilson though. He and Coach Kevin Sumlin go a long ways back, and the Bulldog coordinator has seen it before in other contexts; most obviously in recent years from Houston where the Cougars consistently lit up scoreboards. Yes, said Wilson, there are similarities for scouting.

"But it's more tailored for their quarterback, (Johnny) Manziel. He's a guy who can beat you with his arm, but also he can beat you with his feet. He's a guy who creates and keeps a lot of plays alive in the passing game as well as the run game. I believe he might be the leading rusher in the SEC. That says a lot."

Manziel in fact does pace league runners at 99 yards each week overall. His SEC-game average is 82 yards, still entirely impressive. Fancy footwork and a few timely tosses saved A&M's road trip to Oxford for one example; last week Manziel threw for 260 yards and ran for 90 more in a rout of Auburn…and all in just over two quarters of work. Had he stayed on the field the potential for all-time records was obvious.

Wilson mentions Heisman winner Cam Newton as a comparison, not physically of course but in play-making terms. "And the biggest thing you like, he's a competitor. He's fun, he's out there competing the whole game. He's created his own identity."

Meaning Mississippi State has to identify the triggerman every Saturday instant. Or as Wilson said, "You've got to have someone who accounts for him on every possession. You have to know where he is at, and you've got to be able once you find him to get him on the ground. That's the big thing he does to keep plays alive."

And in the process kill some fine-sounding defensive schemes. Not always of course. After starting smartly against Florida and LSU, the Aggie quarterback was better-contained in each second half. Maybe his freshman age had something to do with that. What Wilson say though wasn't so much a matter of age as agility by the opposing defenders.

"The biggest thing, it's the matchups, who they have out on the football field," Wilson said. "You've got to have guys on the field who can get him on the ground. I don't know if this is a game for 330-pounders at times."

No, Wilson is not suggesting going with a linebacker-sized line; that might work against the quarterback alone, but A&M has other weapons to work with. In fact their best aren't the runners and throwers, but the blockers. Advertisements of Aggie offensive line prowess have proven true in the SEC transition.

"From what everybody says they've got two top-round draft picks at offensive tackle," Wilson said. "They're very polished and well-coached up front and they have good skill around. We have to go out and match it and really execute at a high level in a game like this."

And, the coach agreed, not get caught-up in chasing after an escape-artist quarterback. Defenders who go flying after Manziel end up looking foolish as he scampers downfield for another big gainers, or finds that one receivers who has evaded extended coverage. LSU and Florida had the right people, ultimately, to match up and stay stuck. Plus, Wilson reminded, to shake off big plays and make their own when it counted most.

"At the end of the day you've got to be really good in the red zone, because they're going to move the ball. They're going to get yards. Where you've got to be different is how you treat them in the red zone." Which was how those high-flying Houston teams would find themselves grounded just often enough, in fact. Bulldog defenders have to keep calm, stay on assignments, and not get carried away as if helmets are on fire…though "We've been known to do that a time or two!" Wilson joked.

"But they key is are our guys going to have a great week of preparation? And have awareness of what is going on every down and every situation? If we can do that we'll be fine." Assuming of course that the MSU offense does its share of scoring, though this is outside Wilson's game-week concerns.

Though Alabama and A&M have nigh-nothing in common offensively there are lessons for learning from last week's loss, which should be useful if not this week then during the rest of State's November stretch. Make no mistake, the Crimson Tide played like a #1 team and national championship favorite should. Wilson's review confirmed Alabama's "great execution" as he called it, combined with Bulldog breakdowns. Not as many as the score might indicate, but more than enough to lose such a matchup.

"We had three mental errors. And taking nothing away from those guys, they punished our mistakes. We had a mental error in one of our base coverages in the middle of the field on the long touchdown with Johnthan (Banks). Then we had another mental breakdown in the red zone on the one that they threw to the tight end. In a championship game like that, it's what we said, if you make mistakes, you get punished for the mistakes. They were too much to recover from in the end."

Wilson did try taking some blame on himself for the three-touchdowns allowed start. Though he did think some adjustments, maybe most important mentally, did produce some results. "Kids settling down and realizing that at the end of the day, it's just football. Once they did that, we were able to generate some three-and-outs, change field position, and we had some opportunities early," he said.

"There was good and bad both. But our biggest stat at the end of the day was the W. We did not coach well enough or play well enough to win."

Coaching and playing are at a premium this week, maybe more so as—other than the obviously different styles—the Bulldogs and Aggies share some key commonalities. Not just the school colors, either, but where they stand in both Western Division and post-season terms. The winner comes out with a real leg-up on the bowl selection pecking order after all.

And then there is simply playing for pride, especially by a Bulldog defense that has something to prove going into the decisive month. "I just know that we're 7-1, we're second right now in the league, and we've got a chance to be 8-1 if we go out and play at a higher level and execute at a higher level," Wilson said. "We've got to go play better, we've got to go fix our issues. We do that, we'll be ready to go.

"This game is really critical to both our successes throughout these next four or five games. I expect it to really be a knock-down, drag-out Saturday."


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