Bulldog Defense Faces Biggest Battle of Season

So what if popular impression about safety involves covering routes and breaking up passes. Kivon Coman likes that part fine. It’s the other part he loves. “You play defense to tackle. If you didn’t want to tackle, you’d be on offense.”

Good thing Coman likes tackling. Because Mississippi State’s free safety can expect plenty of contact Saturday when Alabama arrives at Scott Field.

The Crimson Tide comes to town #2 in the new College Football Playoff rankings. More to the moment they just moved out ahead of the SEC West standings at 5-1 with only Mississippi State (3-2) and Auburn (2-4) left between Alabama and Atlanta. The Bulldogs just moved above break-even for the first time after beating Missouri, with three league games left to settle their season. State also moved up to #17 in the CFP release.

There are the unavoidable mirror-comparisons to 2014. That’s when Mississippi State went to Tuscaloosa both ranked #1 in all polls and controlling the Division race. The Bulldogs returned with the first loss of the season as Alabama went on to win the West and make the inaugural College Football Playoff foursome.

Now the Crimson Tide is on the road and, while second in the CFP on the faster Western Division track. Mississippi State isn’t out of the picture with two losses, but can’t afford another even in this year’s stretch-run mob of four, maybe even five clubs. Fans and media now know the tiebreak angles better than coaches and players.

Coman can’t care just yet. Business at hand is enough to keep attention. Yes, he said, there were signs of game-week tension a year ago this time and it showed in State’s sputtering first half.

“I don’t see that this year. I see everybody ready to go. We’re a better team than last year, nobody gives us credit but hey, we’re ready to play.”

Thing is, this week Coman and club are playing offensive Alabamans who thrive on hard hitting themselves. None more so than big linebacker-sized back Derrick Henry, who just left cleat marks on a LSU defense which is no pushover themselves. His 38 rushes netted 210 yards and three touchdowns. A 5.8-yard average carry doesn’t do Henry justice as he hauls his 242 pounds at safety speeds.

Coman is not at all too proud to say this week calls for gang tackling. “We’ve just got to have all eleven hats to the ball. We can’t have one of our brothers on him one-on-one. You just have to go for the legs, go for the thigh boards. Don’t aim high with him because he’s big.”

Alabama doesn’t need to rely so much on throwing the ball with a reliable ground game. This makes them that much more dangerous, especially for safeties focused on run-support. Because keep creeping up too often, too far…and suddenly that ball goes sailing overhead for the home run.

“We just have to have good eyes and great coverage,” Coman said. “And when it’s passing it’s all eleven, not just the secondary. Our defensive line is great and I believe in them, they’ve been getting pressure this whole year and I think they’re going to help us this week with deep passes.”

Lately Coman has shown his own skills on deep balls. At Missouri he snagged his first career interception, a third-quarter pick right after Mississippi State had taken a 21-13 lead. His takeaway was soon turned into a field goal and effective control of the evening.

For good measure, Missouri’s last chance to put up some pride points was knocked away in the end zone by none other than Coman. The break-up did more than preserve a MSU margin. It kept the streak of no fourth quarter touchdowns intact. This weekend the challenge ramps-up considerably because Alabama has scored 76 points in fourth periods.

Something has got to give late Saturday afternoon on that stat. Coman doesn’t want his defense’s streak to stop this week for sure. However, don’t suggest that the Sheffield, Ala., native brings extra personal incentive into the contest. He was more or less an Auburn fan growing up anyway.

“So I don’t really look at it that way, I’m a Mississippi State Bulldog and that’s all I really care about.”

And being a Bulldog, Coman has a clear idea of how his defense has to approach Alabama. Whether it is starting stronger than ever and not allowing first quarter points as in the past; or continuing the fourth-quarter scoreless streak; this is something Coman is ready to, well, to tackle.

“We’ve just got to play Mississippi State football. If we do that everything will take care of itself. No matter who we’re playing on the other sideline as long as we’re playing Mississippi State football everything else will take care of itself.”

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