Of course it always does when playing Texas A&M. Third down and red zone prowess is impressive, and necessary in any matchup. But the #14-ranked Aggies have a knack for making plays in any down, distance, or spot. And blowing-up scoreboards, too.
“The surest way to get beat by a team like this is give up big plays,” Mississippi State coordinator Diaz said. “That’s what the pride themselves on. By running by you and catching the big ball, or by catching the short one and running after the catch.” Oh, and by the way, the Aggies will actually hand the ball to somebody and let him haul it. “They’ve got a big back that likes to run through tackles.”
So. The Bulldog defense will be wishing it were anywhere but Kyle Field this weekend, huh? Wrong.
“I think it’s something we’re excited to go against,” Diaz said. “I think it’s a great challenge. I mean certainly they know what they’re doing. But we’re a little excited about the idea of going up against it. And there’s no bigger stage to go test yourself on than Kyle Field.”
A big stage that will have lots of folk on it. Especially from Mississippi State’s standpoint. It won’t exactly be a 1A and 1B sort of system. But yes, Diaz said. Expect to see Bulldog defenders taking turns Saturday. Then more turns, and more, and…
“You have to have a lot of guys that are ready to play,” he said. It isn’t that Diaz does not trust his starters, or would want the #1s on field every snap possible. But the numbers from previous Bulldog-Aggie meetings show depth will be demanded. The three contests as SEC opponents have seen Texas A&M average, average mind, well over 80 snaps each time. That’s not counting kicking plays, penalties, etc.
There isn’t a starting squad in the sport that could hold up over that many plays. Much less against the Aggie approach. So yes, Diaz said, look for some sort of rotation.
“Because otherwise they get worn-down. It also puts a strain on your mental keys. Mental fatigue sometimes is more damaging than physical fatigue because all of a sudden you’re just not quite as locked-in, your eyes start to wander, you’re not where you’re supposed to be.
“It’s a physical problem but sometimes it’s more a mental problem. So we’ll have to have a rotation of guys ready to go.” At every position, too. Though this will give a lot of younger Dogs more turns to show their stuff on the big stage. Diaz likes how LB Gerri Green has picked up things. And S Brandon Bryant is not just rotating but getting as many snaps as either starter lately.
“Brandon’s tackling has been fantastic and his speed and athleticism shows back there,” said Diaz.
They don’t get as much attention against an air-first attack. But Diaz is counting on the four linemen to do their jobs in a big way. Not necessarily sacking Kenny Hill, he said, but keeping the quarterback as uncomfortable as possible. If possible.
“The pass defense is all eleven guys. Everybody is responsible. We all understand what we have to do to stop the plays they have to run. They’re an offense that prides itself on out-executing you with the plays they run.”
Regardless of who Diaz and staff send on the field, though, they have one over-arching command: go tackle. Not just make contact, tackle. Put the Aggie with the ball down, quickly and efficiently. Oh, and be ready to do it time and time again without assistance.
That fact will cause some concerns. In their first three games Dog defenders had some issues with solo tackling. Not just out in space but even around the line of scrimmage. Even Northwestern State backs were able to keep going after contact for bigger gains. It was merely frustrating that game.
This one, it will be fatal. The positive trend is that Diaz saw improvements at Auburn, especially in single matchups. Positive isn’t perfect but the tackling is headed in a good direction now.
“Like most things with the defense, inconsistent. We’ve got some guys that are better than others. From my vantage point it seems to get better as the game goes on. Some of that is the people that are doing it, but it’s something that’s gotten better week-in and week-out.”
Leading tackler LB Richie Brown earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his evening at Auburn. Diaz said Brown had the stats to earn this honor, but even better “He also played a great game. He made the plays a middle linebacker should make. He also made very difficult plays, some tackles in space, big plays in the fourth quarter that helped secure our victory.”
And besides, one SEC West road victory only whets the appetite for more. Should the Bulldogs get out of College Station with a win in their account, suddenly Scott Field becomes a bigger October stage itself.