Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Dog Defense Putting On The Pressure

Pressure? Manny Diaz seems taken-aback by the innocent question. Then, “I don’t think so. First of all, I don’t know what pressure is.”

Well that can’t entirely be accurate. Diaz definitely knows about bringing pressure. It’s the perceived emphasis of his defensive philosophy, right? Then there’s the push, push, push Mississippi State’s coordinator applies in practices, meetings, evaluations.

But personal pressure arising from expectations? Don’t call it pressure. Call it college football.

“The more you do this, the game is about the people who play not the people who coach,” Diaz said. 

It should be easy to turn attention to players on this 2015 roster. Spring training, under the returned Diaz’ direction, assured this Bulldog defense will be good. If preseason reports by players and staff aren’t overly biased, good could become great. 

Now it’s time to find out for-real. 

“We’ve kind of hit that spot where we’re ready to go play,” said Diaz. “You go against your offense so many times and get tired of seeing the same guy. You can only just run into somebody so many times before you prefer to run into somebody else. And the offense feels the same way.” 

Yeah, it is time to hear the ‘ready to hit somebody else’ cliché from everyone in the college game. It is still true. Though, Diaz presents it in a slightly different angle. As capable and as varied as Mississippi State’s offense ought to be, Dog defenders aren’t likely to learn much more about themselves just scrimmaging intrasquad. 

“Because we don’t play Mississippi State on offense. They may do things we may not see for 13 weeks this season. You have to be careful getting used to what you’re seeing every day and understanding there are other things out there we’re going to have to defend.” 

Southern Mississippi ought provide plenty of this. The third-year regime has brought in lots of transfers, juco or seco, who will automatically provide a different look from what Mississippi State saw and stomped 49-0 a year ago. There are also some newly-healthy Eagles who should upgrade the play-making on both sides. 

Diaz does say the defense has turned practice focus to the opening opponent. Plus, “They understand what a big game that’s going to be, what a great environment that’s going to be, and what a great game for this state. So we have a high sense of urgency to make sure we perform at a high level that night.” 

But… This coordinator offers a different view of debuts. “Sometimes game-one is about yourself more than your opponent,” Diaz said. 

Mississippi State will head south next weekend reasonably confident about itself, on both sides of the ball. Diaz only speaks for the defense of course. “We’ve had a good camp.” Rumor mills make this sound under-stated as the Bulldog defense has been—reputedly—outstanding all August. From first day of spring ball players have bought into Diaz’ plans wholeheartedly and rave about a fresh aggression, improved energy, greater awareness of assignments, etc. and so on. 

Diaz doesn’t downplay these things. However, he cautioned that at this point of a season and in a non-conference matchup, against an unfamiliar foe, schemes are secondary. If that high. 

“Tackling in game-one is paramount. So we’ve done a lot of work on that and pride ourselves on being a great tackling team.” 

The 2014 Bulldogs weren’t a terrible tackling team of course, though in fan minds the glaring gaffes stand out more than larger consistency. State for example led the FBS in red-zone defense, nothing to dismiss lightly. 

At the same time it was missing some tackles—not tons of them but just enough—which led to all three losses. Diaz saw this immediately in evaluating 2014 play. He also immediately instituted stress on tackling, especially style. 

In both August intrasquads, then, the coordinator came away pleased with an emerging identity. Topped by tackling. 

“I thought we played fast, we attacked the line of scrimmage. I thought we showed toughness, I thought we tackled well which to me is the very first thing you evaluate in a scrimmage. You always want to talk about this coverage or this blitz or whatever, but defense is getting off blocks and tackling.” 

If…no, when these Bulldogs do these basics as instructed, all pressure falls upon fellows in the other uniforms and on the other sideline. For Diaz, what pressure? He’s just asking his squad to play Bulldog football, after all. 

“We have a pretty high standard for the way we play defense.”

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