STARKVILLE – With six football practices left this spring, defensive coordinator Zach Arnett is not pleased with where Mississippi State’s defense is right now.
Mississippi State has already finished nine spring practices and had its first scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium this past Saturday. The scrimmage consisted of nine drives and roughly 80 plays.
On those drives, the defense racked up nine sacks, one interception and four other tackles-for-loss, but head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense passed for 390 yards and four touchdowns, while the ground game added 40 yards and two touchdowns.
Arnett was not pleased with how often the offense got into the end zone.
“We’re not a very good defense right now. We didn’t play very good,” Arnett said. “It’s a pretty simple standard. If the offense goes up and down the field that’s bad defense. If an offense moves the ball and scores points that’s not good defense.
That’s kind of the universal standard. The scoreboard don’t lie.”
Mississippi State’s defense was one of the lone bright spots of an SEC-only season in 2020.
The Bulldogs had the fifth-best defense in terms of yards allowed per game, despite a large abundance of turnovers from the offensive side of the ball giving opposing teams a shortened field.
The secondary, however, gave up over 260 yards per game and was the fifth-worst passing defense in the conference. That was largely in part due to injuries and opt-outs within position groups.
On the flip side, however, the injuries and opt-outs gave players like safety Collin Duncan a chance to prove themselves. Duncan started seven games and recorded 46 tackles, 2 interceptions and defended 6 passes.
Duncan agreed with Arnett’s assessment on Tuesday that the defense has not played well this spring, but he thinks they can continue to get “1% better each day.” He said the defense’s goal is to get back to the Mississippi State standard of defense left behind from players such as Chris Jones, Jeffery Simmons and Fletcher Cox.
"If you look back in the years of Mississippi State, we've always been known for hard-nosed defense and hard-nosed football,” Duncan said. “They (former players) didn't let the standard fall off at all. They kept it there and they kept that bar high. And if you didn't meet that standard then you were going to get called out in practice. That is what Coach Arnett is bringing back to this university.”