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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Four non-offensive keys for MSU to win 10 games this football season

Olivia Zeringue | Photography Editor
Four non-offensive keys for MSU to win 10 games this football season

Mississippi State University is set to have their first football practice of the 2017 season this Tuesday. Expectations for the team differ depending on who you talk to, but I for one think this team is capable of winning 10 games. To have this successful season, there are eight things, four offensive and four non-offensive MSU has to do this year.

I firmly believe MSU can have another nine or 10-win season this year. The schedule is manageable and the talent is present across the board. Going into this season, MSU also has one of the most experienced defensive coordinators in the SEC after hiring Todd Grantham from Louisville. Combine him with Dan Mullen’s stellar offensive play-calling and there is potential for success. However, in order for MSU to hit that nine or 10-win mark, there are four offensive and four non-offensive keys for MSU this season.

Today we look at the four non-offensive keys for MSU this season. If you want to see the offensive keys, those can be found HERE.

-Gerri Green and the other outside players have to put  pressure on the quarterback.

There is a new defensive coordinator in town for MSU (again). Grantham joined the Bulldog staff in January. Grantham is the fourth defensive coordinator MSU has had in as many years. Grantham previously led the defenses of the University of Georgia and the University of Louisville.

Grantham brings the ability to bring pressure to the quarterback from the outside linebacker position. MSU has the athletes at linebacker to fit Grantham’s scheme with  Gerri Green, a former four-star recruit out of Greenville, who is a freak athlete and Traver Jung, a three-star junior college  linebacker who played at Holmes Community College.

MSU struggled to get into the backfield last season, as they only sacked the quarterback 24 times. This  put them at ninth in the SEC and 21 sacks behind first place team Alabama.

Traver Jung was MSU’s  leading linebacker in sacks with seven but finished 12th in the conference among linebackers. MSU struggled to get pressure off the edge last season which  was a big part of the reason they ranked 110th in total defense.  

Grantham has a history of producing great outside pass rushers in Jarvis Jones and Justin Houston. Both outside linebackers, Jones was the SEC defensive player of the year in 2012 as well as being an All-American in 2011 and 2012, and Houston was an all-American at outside linebacker in 2010.

He runs a 3-4 scheme that Gerri Green said was very similar to a 4-2-5 at times. Green, Montez Sweat and Marquiss Spencer can all expect to play “Buck” linebacker as they called it in the spring. “Buck”  linebacker is similar to what Grantham did with Houston and Jones— a linebacker who hybrids down to a defensive end a lot of the time.

The position is designed to get pressure on the quarterback. This  will be a welcome sign for MSU fans, because MSU has struggled  to generate pressure in the last couple years, and their defensive numbers have been affected by it. If MSU wants to win 10-games this year, they have to get stops and the only way that will happen is if MSU can generate pressure.

-MSU needs to find someone to kick the football through the yellow post.

Oh, the MSU kicker position. How bad have you been over the years?

Going into last year MSU thought they had this problem relatively solved in Westin Graves, but he comes out in the season opening game and misses a game winning field goal against South Alabama and just never mentally recovered afterwards.

MSU was 11-19 last season on field goals. 24 missed points can make a huge difference when MSU lost four games by five points or less  last year (including the 7-point BYU loss because it was in overtime, so the game ended in a tie). Not only did MSU miss a lot of field goals, but Dan Mullen changed his play calling because of the lack of a kicker. Towards the end of the season he came close to just abandoning kicking field goals and playing four down football on the opponent’s side of the 50.

Now there are kickers on MSU’s roster. The hope of  MSU fans rests  on the true freshman Tucker Day. Day has a leg, he was an U.S. Army All-American at the punter position in high school and ranked as the 10th best punter in his class last year — but that is the catch. He is a punter first and that is not always a skill that translates to kicking field goals. Some punters can kick field goals, a lot cannot. Logan Cooke is MSU’s other punter who has a great leg, has told me he can not really kick field goals.

MSU has some other kickers on the roster, but they did not look good in the spring game. Brad Wall missed a 46-yard field goal and made a 26-yard field goal. Jace Christman missed a 26-yard field goal. So MSU is still looking for that kicker who can kick field goals for MSU’s shot at success this year, MSU fans should hope the Day’s skill translates.

-The secondary, more specifically the cornerbacks, needs to stay healthy this year.

Now yes, it is important for every team to stay healthy to have success, but MSU has had some terrible luck with their secondary getting hurt. MSU’s secondary was decimated by injuries before the season even started last season.

Tolando Cleveland tore his ACL and missed the whole year and Cedric Jiles broke his arm and missed significant time. In 2015, Will Redmond tore his ACL half way through the season and safety Kendrick Market tore his ACL against Texas A&M, just five games into the season.

Both seasons, especially last year, the injuries hurt the team more than the average injury does. MSU was thin at the corner spot last season even before the injuries. As a result of the injuries, safety Jamal Peters moved to the corner position.  The injuries contributed to MSU having the 120th out of 128 teams in FBS in pass yards allowed last season.

By the season’s end Peters began to play well and figure out how to play the position. Peters, a 4-star recruits (at safety) out of Bassfield, has the talent and length to play there. He is 6’2 with good athleticism and speed. It is just a matter of him staying healthy and learning the position.

Tolando Cleveland will be starting opposite Peters and will look to get back to form after his ACL injury. The hope is that the injury does not slow him down. Cleveland will be a fifth year senior and saw time in 2014 when Redmond was injured. MSU mainly needs to keep the corners healthy because they have already lost two cornerbacks this offseason. Jamoral Graham left the team in the spring and Cedric Jiles transferred over the summer to Wake Forest University.

MSU has better depth this year than last season. If injuries do occur, Lashard Durr and Cam Dantzler are two more players who could step in. Durr is a senior and Dantzler showed out in the spring game (LINK). So MSU has more players at corner than they have had behind the starters in the past, but MSU has struggled for years to defend the pass and they can not afford injuries in the secondary MSU can not afford an injury.

-Players need to step up and fill the leadership void left by A.J. Jefferson, Richie Brown, and Kivon Coman.

The biggest loss from last season to this season is not just the talent MSU  lost in the defensive trio last year, but the veteran presence and the leadership they provided. Every week Richie Brown and A.J. Jefferson would talk to the media and were the leaders on team.

The offense has leaders in Nick Fitzgerald and Donald Gray, but the defense lost their leaders on all three defensive levels. There are multiple candidates to step up. Gerri Green talked this spring about having to step into Richie Brown’s shoes.

Tolando Cleveland is another senior who could step into that roll in the secondary.

The defensive line is the biggest question mark for someone to step up. The defensive line does not have a senior player, so it is on younger stars, like Jeffrey Simmons, to step into that role.

Really the only place on the defense with experience is the linebacker spot with Traver Jung and Dezmond Harris.  Overall someone will need to fill those voids left in the locker room by Brown, Jefferson and Coman. These three provided as much benefit off the field as on it and if MSU wants to succeed this season they need someone to keep the defense together in the locker room.
 Contact Taylor Rayburn at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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Four non-offensive keys for MSU to win 10 games this football season