Bulldogs Tackling Some Defensive Issues

He can't do the job for them. This doesn't keep Geoff Collins from feeling he was also getting beat on plays. "As a coach you always take it on yourself, what can I do better as a coach to get what we do in practice to carry over into the game?" the linebackers coach said. "Personally I'm going to take it on myself."

Meanwhile Bulldog ‘backers have to pick up their own pace as #22 Mississippi State prepares to meet #9 LSU. Not that Bulldog defensive troubles in losses to Alabama and Texas A&M fall entirely on this area; far from it. There were not a lot of positive reports the past two weeks after giving up 1,100 total yards. Or more painfully, three touchdowns on the first three series of each weekend. State's offense certainly had their own issues as well and left a lot of load to their teammates.

That's no excuse to co-coordinator Collins. "I've got to coach better."

Most obviously, the area few anticipated would be a Dog defensive problem. All of a sudden a defense proud of its prowess has become a bunch unable to put the opponent down. To consistently tackle, in other words.

To be fair some difficulties were inevitable once Mississippi State got into the later weeks of this schedule. Instead of stopping the runners/catchers of Auburn and Troy and even Tennessee, they are facing a series of bigger, faster, and in some cases both athletes able to beat the best tacklers. That was expected. Just not so often as is now happening.

Thus, "I've got to do a better job of teaching tackling," Collins said. "And I think the kids are doing the same thing, too. ‘How can I improve as a tackler? I know coach is telling me all of these things, how can I do better?' As long as we're all in this mindset, it'll improve."

At least the coach is confident. Still the trend has turned troubling in tackling-terms. On telling statistic last week as the out-of-proportion number of assists, as opposed to solo or first contacts. This indicated a lot of missed first chances and last-chance support to bring down Aggies. Or not in a few really glaring cases where the ball was hauled past flat-footed Bulldogs unable to react.

Linebacker Cameron Lawrence said afterwards many times Dogs pulled-up early on plays, fearful of getting burned worse by the quick-footed Aggies. The result was as bad or worse in fact, and Collins reported up to 300 or so yards were gained after contact if there even was contact.

"The big thing that we stress all the time, the thing that Coach Mullen stresses all the time, is just run through every tackle," Collins said. "Because if you run through every tackle, they will stop their feet, and the rest of the guys can come and make the play and clean it up for you."

"It was way too many yards after contact. You don't want those kinds of things to happen, especially in a big-time SEC game, and it was a big environment with our fans and everything. It's just disappointing, but a lot of things that we want to improve on, and motivation to do so."

Something else in obvious need of improvement is tackling a passer before the ball is thrown. Mississippi State has notched just 13 sacks all season, seven of those in SEC games. Those are at or near the bottom of the league standings, though some context is needed. The Bulldogs have played teams like Tennessee and Alabama with blocking that simply doesn't give up sacks to anyone. And A&M had a quarterback few can chase down under any circumstances.

Still, said Collins, "We try every week come up every week with ways to get to the quarterback, to get some good pressure."

Those ways have not included lots of blitzes. This simply is not a defense designed to sell-out consistently and not much will change about the general scheme in month-three of a season. There are ideas though for increasing pressures with one or maybe two linebackers, and State tried them last weekend.

"We always want more pressure," said Collins. "You see Saturday against Johnny Manziel, Matt Wells was really close twice and missed a sack; Deontae Skinner was close twice, he missed a sack. Cam got him on the ground. We were so close.

"Matt Wells is a great kid but probably leads the SEC in missed opportunities, and it drives him because he's such a great athlete and wants to do the things we're asking of him. And it's just a matter of time where it just starts coming in bunches for him."

Another Bulldog defender the coach believes is increasingly close to producing as anticipated is defensive end Denico Autry. The season numbers don't show it, but Collins has seen development for the transfer. "When he first got here he was just running around and making plays. Which is great but he wasn't always executing within the framework of the defense.

"You're just seeing especially the last three weeks he's still flying around, still making extremely athletic plays. But he's actually doing it within the framework of the defense now, too, which is positive to see." For the defensive coaches, he means, though should Autry find the right fit of framework and ability fans could be seeing things soon as well.

"Absolutely, because he's getting closer and closer every week," Collins said. "I think this game will play to his strengths as well."

That's a confident comment given who the game is against. LSU is justly noted for its own defensive dominance, but the Tiger offense is no pushover.

"They've got four tailbacks that are as good as anybody, they could probably all start for anybody in the country," Collins said. "And then (Zack) Mettenberger coming along and playing, he's got some tremendous receivers, the o-line is big and physical. So it's going to be a challenge."

A big one, though at least the Tigers are a little bit simpler than what State saw last week. Or as Collins agreed, LSU doesn't go much for trickery. "Yeah, it's going to be, what does Missouri say, grown-man football at 6:00 on Saturday night. I'm excited about it, I think the kids will be too."

Which is a positive point. Collins said yes, there is a degree of disappointment showing. "When they play poorly they really take it internally and try to get better."

"But they've put way too much into it during the off-season and the pre-season to take any steps back now. There's three regular season games, I think you'll see a different group of guys in the maroon and white on Saturday."

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