Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator has been busy organizing a gameplan for a Southern Mississippi offense about which more can be suspected than expected. Collins can watch the Eagle play-calling of 2013 of course. He certainly can evaluate the returning personnel on their 2014 roster, if only in some cases from high school recruiting. The trick is putting it all together in time for Saturday’s 6:39 kickoff at Scott Field.
In the process, fans and for that matter the foe who have seen forecasts of an easy opening evening might want to do some re-evaluating of their own. If Mississippi State needs a true test to start off a season of lofty expectations, this will be it.
What do you think of the Southern Mississippi offense? “They’ve got great skill players. The O-line is a year older, much more mature. They’ve got a good running game, the quarterback makes great decisions, very accurate thrower. We were involved in recruiting him some; a great kid, great leadership ability. And kind of runs the show for them. They’re a challenge, they have a bunch of running backs that are really good players. So it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
How well did you get to know Mullens in recruiting that part of Alabama? “Very well. Great kid, he came over here a couple of times and I think the world of him. So it’s fun watching him play because I followed him so much in high school. It’s going to be good to get to compete against him on Saturday.”
How much of last year’s scouting material doesn’t apply this year with new personnel or old players now healthy? “Yeah, each week they do some different things. They’re very well-coached, you can tell they know what they’re doing in the passing game. Great scheme in the running game. So we know it’s going to be a big deal for us on Saturday, so try to get ready.”
Has anyone emerged as the fourth defensive end you were looking for? “Yeah, we think we have five and five; five D-tackles that can play, five D-ends that can play. And about two or three other guys that do both. So we’re just excited to roll those guys through during the game. Like we always say we want to keep a lot of guys in there, a lot of guys playing so that everybody is playing at a high level throughout the entire game.”
What does that depth do not just on the line but at linebacker and secondary? “We think we have five safeties we can play, we think we have five corners that can play, seven to eight linebackers. So we just like to keep everybody going hard. Coach Mullen’s big thing is playing with relentless effort and the fresher we keep guys and keep guys rolling through it helps us do that.”
“We think very, very highly of our defensive line. They’ve been working really hard. Coach (David) Turner like I’ve said before is one of the best D-line coaches I’ve ever been around. You just see them all last season fundamentally and technically get better and better and better. And then I’m excited to see all the development of Chris Jones and Nick James, A.J. Jefferson, Nelson Adams, from being first-years with Coach Turner last year, taking that next step to being a really good defensive line.”
You have a lot of veterans there, what do you like out of P.J. Jones? “P.J. was banged-up a little bit last year, and you can tell he’s hungry. He’s got a little chip on his shoulder. And just the way he goes about practice. Him, Kaleb (Eulls), Preston (Smith), they’ve been through this for three years; they know what a Monday practice is like, they know what a Tuesday practice is like. They know how to exert themselves, play hard because they know what the practice is going to be like, and get themselves ready for Saturday.”
“They do a good job helping our scout team offensive line, too. There’s a lot of really good young players on that line and getting to go against a P.J. and a Kaleb and a Preston and a Chris Jones, Ryan Brown every day is going to speed-up their development, too.”
Is it important to get off to a fast start and not allow Southern Miss confidence after their struggles? “Yeah, we respect the heck out of them. We think they’re going to be a big challenge for us. We just go out and try to play Mississippi State football, fly around and have a little ‘psycho defense’ attitude. That’s what we’re trying to be known as. So the opponent, we think it’s going to be a big challenge so we’re just getting ready to play.”
Last year you had to play some freshmen, will they help with this year’s depth? “That’s the nice thing, too. You can look across the board at special teams, we’ve got a lot of depth running around there on special teams. Good, quality players that are fighting for snaps, they’re fighting for special teams reps, they’re fighting for reason the defense and they know the better they do at practice their odds of playing time increase across all areas, all phases.”
Have any of this year’s freshmen stood out, or can get on the field? “All of them we think are going to be really good players down the road. But just at my position J.T. Gray has had some really good performances in the preseason. Gerri Green is going to be another in that long line of really good linebackers here. So we’re really excited about the development of all of them.”
Sack totals last year were low, how do you plan to get those up? “Yeah, just focus on technique, come off the ball, guys being hungry, being relentless to get after it. Because we’ve heard the same thing! They (the defensive linemen) know, they probably get asked that same question all the time too! So they’re kind of hungry.”
”They had three sacks in the bowl game so they want to get after the quarterback. They want to produce and I think there’s a lot of pride involved. And they’re a close group, a close-knit group. Coach Turner has done a great job with them so they’re hungry and excited.”