A huge part of Mississippi State’s nine-win season a year ago was a defense that kept teams out of the end zone and created timely turnovers.
The architect of that defense, Manny Diaz, has departed and is now heading up Texas’ defense.
Also gone are Mississippi State’s top two tacklers from a season ago, linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright, as well as the top pass-rusher, end Pernell McPhee.
Senior strong safety Charles Mitchell understands fully what the Bulldogs lost last season in the way of Diaz’s defensive smarts and the production on the field that White, Wright and McPhee provided.
But Mitchell also thinks the Bulldogs will have even more speed on defense in 2011 and maintain that same attacking style under Chris Wilson, who takes over as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator after serving as co-coordinator alongside Diaz last season.
“You’re going to see a lot of speed on defense,” Mitchell said. “We lost a lot of good players at linebacker, but we’ve got some guys coming who run 4.5 (in the 40-yard dash). That’s going to be our identity, a fast defense that makes plays and creates turnovers, and we’re going to be that way all across the defense.”
The Bulldogs return one of the best inside tandems in the SEC in junior tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd. What’s more, Mitchell is part of a secondary that returns intact, and it’s a secondary that possesses both depth and experience.
“We’re versatile back there, too,” said Mitchell, who was third on the team last season with 93 total tackles. “We’ve got corners who can move over and play safety and safeties who can cover like a corner. We also have some athletes back there who can move down and play like a linebacker when we need to on third-down situations.
“The main thing is that we have a lot of guys who’ve played back there. We won’t be making a lot of mental mistakes, and it’s a mature group.
“We want to be the best secondary in the SEC, the best one in the country. That’s what we expect out of ourselves.”
Mitchell said one of the Bulldogs’ goals this season on defense was to lead the SEC in turnovers. They had 28 a year ago, which tied for third in the league with Tennessee behind LSU (32) and Florida (29).
The other thing Mississippi State did last season was keep teams out of the end zone. The Bulldogs were third in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 19.8 points per game, and gave up just 30 touchdowns in 13 games. The only team in the league giving up fewer was Alabama, which held opponents to 19 touchdowns in 13 games.
“We’re going to have some new plays under coach Wilson, but it’s still going to be the same approach,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to go after the quarterback and make him do things he doesn’t want to do.
“One way or the other, we’re going to find the offense’s weakness.”