Mrs. Jennifer Collins was not the only important person in the Bulldog defensive coordinator’s circle celebrating November 19, either. Defensive line coach David Turner, and middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney also are enjoying birthdays Wednesday.
“Hey, three of my favorite people in the world,” Collins said. “Three of the greatest people I’ve ever met.” Fortunately for him he gave the list in the right order, beginning with the missus. Though she still had to take her turn last on the practice day, as #4-ranked Mississippi State (9-1, 5-1 SEC) is putting final touches on plans for this weekend’s visit by Vanderbilt.
Not only is the whole Bulldog team facing their first ‘bounce back’ of the season following a loss at Alabama; but the defense has some interesting aspects to prepare for. The Commodores (3-7, 0-6) may be a struggling bunch this season but not for lack of trying a whole lot of things on offense not seen on 2013 scouting video. Or even much of September and October this season for that matter since Vanderbilt has shuffled its lineups and combinations and schemes and about every possible thing under the first-year coaching staff.
So when Collins finished talking with media he still had some film session time in store. “Then go home and open presents and all that kind of stuff.”
What do you see from Vanderbilt’s offense? “It’s a mixture of some things that Arkansas does really well; things that Alabama does really well. And then it’s a hybrid of Stanford does as well. So it’s challenging. There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of formations, a lot of shifts. A lot of interchangeable players that can play tight end, then they can go play receiver, then they can go play fullback. So putting that puzzle together makes it challenging.”
They’ve settled on McCrary at quarterback though Robinette also played last Saturday, what element does a freshman bring? “Yeah, I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence. You can tell the kids believe in him. The other kid’s still play does a really nice job, and they do different things. But he’s got mobility, he’s got a strong arm, and he does a really nice job.”
Reviewing the Alabama game what did you see from the defense? “The big thing that we focused on the entire week leading up to that game was creating three-and-outs. I think half of the drives were three-and-outs, that was a big point of emphasis for us. Just the disappointing one, we played really well on third downs until that last drive.”
”Then the quarterback escaped three times and work for first downs. So that’s disappointing. But I thought the energy, the juice, creating three and outs, playing tough, playing physical was there throughout the game.”
On those third downs do you tip the hat or was it something you did? “The big thing he (Blake Sims) has added to that offense is mobility. The first half of the game he was looking for Amari (Cooper) and we were doing some things to double-cover him…which naturally you probably should do! So we did do that even though leading up to it I said we wouldn’t!”
”But we were doing some things, we kept trying to double-cover. Then at the end of the game Sims is such a competitor and such an athlete, he had the ball and he wanted to go make a play with it. So I tip my hat to him for being such a great athlete and knowing when the game was on the line took it upon himself to go work for those first downs. So credit to him for making those plays.”
With no forced turnovers the last two games, how much of an emphasis is it this week? “That’s the point of emphasis constantly. Even when we’re getting four and five and six turnovers a game it’s still an emphasis. So those things kind of come in waves, you know. So we just keep working at it and keep talking about it and still focus every single day and every practice.”
Are you proud of the defensive front for creating pressure without having to commit a lot of linebackers, against different offenses? “Yeah, I think Coach Turner has done a great job. We’ve got some great kids up front. They play really, really hard; really, really physical. And I think the credit goes to the back end too that we can do some things coverage-wise to help those guys generate pressure with four.”