Collins Cribbing For Kentucky Matchup

Coach Geoff Collins knows his plans for the last free Saturday of football season. “I’ll be at the crib with my wife.” Fortunately, Mrs. Bulldog Defensive Coordinator will understand if his attention gets drawn to the notebook and preliminary plans for Kentucky.

Because even over this weekend’s open date, Collins and staff will be thinking about resuming their season. All the more so because #1-ranked Mississippi State’s horizons have greatly expanded after a 6-0 start to the season, 3-0 SEC. The Bulldogs will go to Lexington next weekend with the biggest possible stakes, and bearing the biggest possible target on their collective backs.

How much of this week is review and how much starting work on Kentucky? Collins: “Kind of the same as we did the last bye week. It’s kind of been improvement the last two days; getting the young guys a lot of reps. The J.T. Grays and Gerri Greens of the world and they’ve done a great job. So they’ve made the most of it and it’s been fun working with them.”

“I think tomorrow morning it will be more of the same, a little bit on Kentucky. They’re a really good football team, so any extra time you get you try to take advantage of.”

Dez Harris is one of your favorites, it had to be tough seeing him go down? “Great kid. Great kid, great player. He was doing phenomenal for us on special teams. He’s a tough kid though.”

How have those two freshmen linebackers performed? “I think they’re going to be really good. J.T. is in the same mold as Matt Wells and Zach Jackson which are really good players for us. And then Gerri is in that mold of a K.J. Wright, a Benardrick McKinney. And I know that’s high praise for those players being so good. But highly intelligent, high character, they both fly around so I’m just excited to get to work with them every day.”

When Harris was hurt, Quadry Antoine gets in on kickoff cover and makes probably the biggest play? “A huge play. We do the ‘Nickoe Drill’ every week. We do a turnover circuit, we have a Nickoe Drill and that’s all that was. I think Nickoe was the happiest person in the world when that happened!”

”It was just a great play. Playing hard, playing to the whistle, finishing the play. And we always talk about if you’re running to the ball if somebody’s pinned-up or have someone in their grasp, your whole focus should be on that ball. I guess Quadry’s been listening and made a huge play, arguable the biggest play of the game.”

What is it with the defense in the red zone? “Well that was a big point of emphasis last year because I don’t think that was one of our strengths, was red zone defense. So in the off-season we really spent a lot of time in the thing we wanted to do down there, and the mindset and the calls. The kids embraced and they understand what we’re trying to do, and know how fit the run, they know how to defend the pass and the different things that we do. And I think just the mindset has really improved there.”

”Another thing there, sudden change situations. You see Saturday there were some sudden changes, but our guys love our offense, they love Dak (Prescott) and Josh (Robinson) and all our offensive players. So anything that might happen in a negative doesn’t faze them. We’ve got our offense’s back, we love ‘em. So we’re going to go out there and get that stop and try to get our offense the ball back and let them do special things like they do.”

Has anyone reached out to you, former players or coaching friends, with the #1 ranking? “Yeah, I think after the game I had over a hundred texts and tweets. Which is cool. But the big thing with us we are the same people we were four weeks ago. We come to work every single day, work hard, play hard, study our opponents and create a family atmosphere. And I think you see that when we play. Anything beyond that, isn’t us. So want to play as a unit, play as a family, and play really, really hard.”

Does it make it easier to recruit with the attention and the #1 ranking? “Probably! But just the notoriety, and the kids getting the attention which is all well-deserved. And you see Mississippi State logos on places, the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN, on SEC Network. People around the country see that and it shines a spotlight on what a great place this is and what great players we do have.”

I think all that attention is positive and it kind of shows who we are. We’ve been that way, that’s who we are and just the attention is kind of a spotlight on what great fans we have and what a great place this is.”

The label on the defense has been bend but not break, how do you feel about that? “We just play really hard, play physical. I think we’re one of the top defenses in three-and-outs, creating sacks. Tackles for loss. I mean we’re fourth in the country in interceptions, so if that’s what you call bend but don’t break, whatever, we just play really hard. We roll our 1As and 1Bs on the field, it doesn’t matter the situation. And there’s a lot of people that won’t do that.”

”It doesn’t matter. There’s some times, there’s some situations most people wouldn’t be caught having their quote-unquote second team; we consider those guys starters, and when those guys are out there we could care less. They’re going to go out there and play hard, play physical, know the defense inside-and-out. And everybody has got their back. I mean our backup linebacker was national defensive player of the week. So when he’s in, we’re good, we’re excited, he’s a great player. And I think we could say that cross the board at every position with the 1As and the 1Bs.”

”I think we’ve invested in that over the last two years. Coach Mullen and the defensive staff have invested in that mindset and that’s just who we are and what we do. Our guys have confidence that no matter who is out there we expect them to make a stop. And to keep guys fresh in the fourth quarter. You see (on last Auburn play) Chris Jones still have enough juice to beat a double-team, get his hand on the quarterback’s arm and cause a bad throw. And Justin Cox is still fresh because we have Kivon (Coman) and Kendrick (Market) and Jay (Hughes) and Deontay Evans, roll them through. And Cox is still fresh to make a huge play at the end of the game. I think that’s just the mindset our kids have and they’ve embraced it, and it’s been good for us.”

Has the secondary regained their confidence? “I think we’ve always had confidence in them. I think we gave up six big plays early in the year and people made a big deal about it. But it’s one of the lowest completion percentage secondaries in the country. It’s 4th in the country in passes defended between PBUs, knockdowns, those things. So we have confidence in our kids, we always have. If you give up six or seven big plays, learn from it, don’t repeat those mistakes. But those kids are still the same kids they were six weeks ago and we love them, we embrace what they do back there.”

“Two weeks in a row Will Redmond arguably cold have been the player of the week. It’s hard to give him that when Richie Brown has three picks. But you could have a debate that Will was the best player on the field against Texas A&M, and that’s saying something with the amount of talent we have out there. But he’s come such a long way with his technique, he’s such a competitor. But you look at Jamerson (Love), Taveze (Calhoun), and Tolando (Cleveland), they’re Will’s biggest fans and Will is their biggest fan. I just think the dynamic of all four of those guys rotating through, you don’t see that a lot of places. When someone shines there’s no jealousy, everybody is happy for someone’s success. ”

In the red zone how do you use the short field to your advantage? “Know where you are on the field, the depth of their drops, know how to play the different coverages within that zone. And everything constricts a little bit. Also at times it even puts us in an even more dangerous situation, our kids understand the dangers that come with the different things they see down there. And they’ve embraced the challenge.”

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