Coordinator Also Looking for Best Lineup to Start Games Stronger

It’s hard to argue with how they finish games. Starting games? Now that is another matter entirely for the Bulldog defense. A matter coordinator Manny Diaz knows all too well.

“For whatever reason we’ve had a couple of game where we just haven’t started the way we need to start.”

Mississippi State can read it in the numbers. The points numbers. Five games into the season opponents have put up 38 points in first quarters, 28 of that in the three conference contests. Now, fast-forward to fourth quarters where the totals are nine and six points. And, no touchdowns at all.

Such statistics point positively to how Diaz’ defense has been adjusting of course. His message though is how much better can Mississippi State be, defense and overall, with such shut-down and –out execution in first quarters and halves?

But, he added, the fix doesn’t seem to be technical or schematic. “I think right now it’s the DNA of our team, and we’re trying to address that.” Related to that, Diaz said something interesting about a squad five games into the schedule. “Our defense is still evolving.”

“Some years, September 1 you know what you’ve got and off you go. This is just a different style of defense. Our lineup is evolving. We’re having guys that are finally starting to hatch at their own different rate.”

It’s a curious comment considering that the same Bulldogs have started at nine positions through five games. And the two spots which have changed, one cornerback and one safety, did so for injury reasons. Speaking of which, the loss of senior S Kendrick Market does mean an adjustment there for the rest of the season.

And yet, “We’re still looking at whose playing, our lineup is still uncertain,” Diaz said. “We’re trying to find out who our best eleven are.” This with an eye to getting games under defensive control earlier, obviously.

One excellent means would be taking the ball away from the other offense. Since returning from Texas A&M, every Dog defender has mentioned a practice week emphasis on creating turnovers. It’s a baffling business, that through five games State has just three interceptions…and no recovered fumbles at all.

So starting with Sunday’s session new or at least more intensive drills to knock footballs free have been ordered. But it’s not really about special tactics or gimmicks, Diaz said.

“It’s funny, when everyone is asking me how you force turnovers, I say the same thing. You have to stop the run, and you have to harass the quarterback. But you can’t harass the quarterback until you stop the run.”

And other than a stifling ground defense on opening night at Southern Mississippi, opponents have run well or well enough on State. They have not scored a lot, but they have kept the ball a frustrating number of minutes. And, kept the Bulldog defense on the field more snaps. So the goal is just to take away the rush, Diaz said, and make offenses run more risky plays which offer better takeaway situations.

“Until our run defense gets to the point we feel it should be, which it’s not right now, teams are able to kind of keep the ball our harm’s way.”

A visit by 1-3 Troy (3:00, SECN) ought offer such opportunities. Or maybe not, as Diaz cautioned the first-year Trojan staff has gotten things up-and-running quickly under a former Kentucky offensive coordinator.

“Neal Brown is a terrific coach. And they have an experienced staff on offense and everyone out of the same background. So the first day they came together they knew what they wanted to do and how they wanted to accomplish it.”

Still Mississippi State is favored overwhelmingly to make routine work of the non-conference guests. This then should be an ideal mid-October moment to address defensive issues, perhaps make those lineup changes, and figure out what the Bulldogs really are here in 2015.

“I think you’ll see the personality of our defense and the identity of our defense continue to evolve and change as the year goes on,” Diaz said.

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