Accounting for Mississippi State’s defensive front is more than just addition and subtraction. There’s some geometry involved in reading the linemen and linebackers on the other side of the ball.
“They can play multiple sets,” tight end Hale Hentges said. “You can see them in odd, under, over, and they do a lot of things in their blitz schemes. They pose a lot of problems just from the fact that they’re not going to play one thing the entire game.”
Bulldog defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has Mississippi State’s defense ranked third in the SEC in rushing defense, pass defense and total defense in his first year. Only Alabama and Georgia are better. His 3-4 defense came to Starkville this offseason and has helped the Bulldogs continue their climb through the conference.
The scheme creates challenges of its own. Blockers try to identify the fourth pass rusher before the snap, but defenses can use different strategies to disguise who that will be.
“A lot of times people play a 3-4 but it’s really not, because the nose guard is shaded a certain way, so it can be counted as four down,” Hentges said. “A lot of it depends on what (Alabama center Bradley) Bozeman mikes, and what he calls, whether it’s a four-down or a three-down. The other part of it comes from communicating down the line, what pass protection we’re going to do or whether it’s run. The problem with a 3-4 is that they can bring it from pretty much anywhere. A lot of it is just IDing it and getting familiar with watching the film and seeing what kind of blitzes they like to bring.”
It’s also a concern this week after LSU found some weaknesses against Alabama in last week’s win. The Crimson Tide offense was held under 300 yards against the Tigers and surrendered a season-high four sacks.
“I think we’ve got to play better,” left guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “We were kind of in some tough situations with down and distance and whatnot. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to block better.”
LSU’s defense is different from Mississippi State’s. The Tigers are tied for sixth nationally with 30, while the Bulldogs have just 17. But the game still showed some areas that the Crimson Tide needs to clean up.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of blocking them,” coach Nick Saban said. “That’s something that we need to improve on. I can’t really fault Jalen for anything he did or didn’t do in the pocket. Nor do I think he should have just done something differently to avoid those things. I think basically he has to have the time to operate.”
Other problems with playing Mississippi State are perennial, or at least biannual. The cowbells at Davis Wade Stadium can make communication among the offense difficult.
Fans are supposed to clanging the cowbells when the opposing center comes over the ball, allowing him to make calls as necessary. But an extra second of ringing here or there happens, and it forces communication to travel man-to-man from the center all the way out to the tight end.
“I’ll be looking down the line and if I don’t hear anything, Lester will hear something and tell Matt, and Matt will tell me,” Hentges said. “So it all works out in the end.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.