2011 Mississippi State Preview – Defense
Mississippi State SS Charles Mitchell
Mississippi State SS Charles Mitchell
Posted May 12, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldog Defense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Mississippi State Preview | 2011 Mississippi State Offense
- 2011 Mississippi State Defense | 2011 Mississippi State Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: There wasn't much of a pass rush, the secondary got lit up for over 200 yards a game on a regular basis, and there were too many problems over the second half of the year against strong attacks, but the Bulldogs managed to finish 21st in the nation in scoring defense and were terrific against the run. Now there's work to do. The secondary gets everyone back led by two nice corners in Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks, but they need more help from a pass rush that isn't likely to come from a line that loses Pernell McPhee to the NFL. The defensive tackles, Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd, are going to be terrific against the run, and they'll have to be with concerns at linebacker. Chris White and K.J. Wright did everything for the linebacking corps and the defense, and they'll be almost impossible to replace early on.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Charles Mitchell, 93
Sacks: Josh Boyd, Fletcher Cox, 2
Interceptions: Jonathan Banks, Corey Broomfield, Nickoe Whitley, 3

Star of the defense: Junior DT Fletcher Cox
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Trevor Stigers
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Chris Hughes
Best pro prospect: Cox
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Cox, 2) CB Johnthan Banks, 3) SS Charles Mitchell
Strength of the defense: Secondary Experience, Defensive Tackle
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive line didn't do enough to get to the quarterback, with most of the sack production coming from the linebacking corps, but there were more than enough tackles for loss to go around. Unfortunately, the star of the show was Pernell McPhee, who's now a Baltimore Raven after making ten tackles for loss and two sacks. Three starters are back and the run defense should be terrific, and with major changes being made at linebacker, the line has to be stronger.

Trying to replace McPhee on the outside is junior Trevor Stigers, a quick, linebacker-sized pass rushing option who made 19 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss, but didn't register a sack. At 6-5 and 245 pounds, he's a tall, rangy end with excellent speed and a good burst, and now he needs a little bit of time to figure out what he's doing. He has the athleticism and the raw skills, but he hasn't had to be the main man. He'll work in a rotation with junior Shane McCardell , a 6-5, 255-pounder who only made four tackles, but came up with two sacks and three quarterback hurries. Very, very fast, he's a top-shelf athlete with track speed, and now he has the potential to be a dangerous pass rushing specialist.

The top end should be veteran Sean Ferguson, a 6-3, 250-pound senior who has 16 starts under his belt and did a decent job making 23 tackles with five tackles for loss. He returned after being suspended earlier in his career for pot possession, and he bulked up big-time after coming to MSU at 217 pounds. However, he didn't come up with a sack and didn't take advantage of all the attention paid to McPhee on the other side. A starter over the second half of the season, he started to grow into the job and now he has to get used to being the marked man. Trying to add more flash in the rotation with Ferguson is Corvell Harrison-Gay , a true sophomore who came to MSU last year as a top linebacker prospect. He hit the weights to get from 220 up to 250 on his 6-3 frame, and now he has to use his speed and athleticism to be a factor early on.

Anchoring the interior will be a rock-solid pair of junior defensive tackles. Fletcher Cox is a 6-4, 295-pound playmaker who came up with 29 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss as a tackle early and as an end over a few games late in the year. While he's not a top-shelf pass rusher, he's athletic and versatile with tremendous speed and quickness for his size. Able to be a whale of a 3-4 end or a solid part of the interior, he can be used in a variety of ways. Next to him is 6-3, 295-pound veteran Josh Boyd , who isn't all that bulky but holds up like a bigger player. He made 24 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, and with a full-tilt motor and good experience he's a strong all-around talent who'll get in the backfield enough to be disruptive.

Bringing more quickness to the tackle rotation is 6-0, 255-pound junior Devin Jones , a feisty defender who goes all out on every play and makes up for his lack of size with hustle. He made 14 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss, and now he'll work behind Cox while 6-4, 295-pound senior Jeffery Howie needs to step up behind Boyd. The former JUCO transfer wasn't a top prospect, but he's big, strong, and working to get into better shape. He made ten tackles with four tackles for loss and should see more time this year.

Watch Out For … Stigers. McPhee was good, but it's not like he's an irreplaceable force who destroyed opposing backfields. Stigers hasn't done enough yet to show that he's ready to be a pass rushing terror, but he has the athleticism and talent to become a major factor.
Strength: Tackle. The interior isn't huge, but Cox, Boyd, Howie and Jones can all move and can all hold up against the run. There might not be a mauling all-star, but this group will get the job done.
Weakness: Pass rush. This has been a problem for the last several years. The Bulldogs finished 104th in the nation in sacks two years ago, and last year the line did nothing with the back seven generating more than half the team's sacks. There isn't anyone on the line to worry about.
Outlook: The run defense was terrific last year and the line was solid at getting into the backfield, but mostly it just held its own while the linebackers lit everyone up. This has been a young, growing line that's been building to this point, and while it'll be serviceable, it's not going to be a killer.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: Welcome to Square One. Chris White and K.J. Wright were the team's top two tacklers last year combining for 208 tackles with nine sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. These two were all over the field as dominant, disruptive forces who did everything for the defense, while Emmanuel Gatling came up with 45 tackles. Now the defense will need every practice from now until the start of the season to figure out what the right starting combination will be.

Trying to replace White in the middle is senior Brandon Wilson, who might not be a big-time disruptive force in the backfield, but has the toughness to hold up well against the run. Forget the flash; he'll put up nice stats as a run defender who stops everything funneled his way. The 6-0, 235-pounder doesn't have much in the way of range, but he's a thumper. Now he has to do it on a regular basis after making 17 stops as a reserve, while 6-0, 240-pound senior Jamie Jones will keep his foot on the gas trying to win the job. He has a little bit of starting experience, but he only made two tackles in his limited time. Extremely athletic, he moves better than Wilson.

It'll be a great fight for one of the outside spots with sophomore Chris Hughes battling with promising sophomore Deonte Skinner . The 6-2, 235-pound Skinner was one of the stars of spring ball showing terrific pass rushing ability and the potential to be a statistical star. Bigger than Hughes, he can hold up against the run and has just enough flash to get into the backfield on a regular basis after making just seven tackles as a reserve. The 6-0, 215-pound Hughes has tremendous potential, even though he's built more like a safety. An Achilles heel injury slowed his career down before it could get started, but he showed off a little bit of the talent and versatility that made him such a hot prospect with 13 tackles and a tackle for loss.

Combining on the other side will be junior Cameron Lawrence and redshirt freshman Matthew Wells with Lawrence needing to be pushed out of the starting job. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Lawrence has decent size and a full-tilt motor, but he's not a top athlete. He brings a good punch when he gets to the ball coming up with 34 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. While he's the steady veteran of the group, he'll have to hold off the 6-0, 205-pound Wells, who was a top Mississippi high school running back who'll be all over the field. He's a terrific athlete who cuts on a dime, but he doesn't have the bulk to hold up on a regular basis against the power running teams.

Watch Out For … Brandon Maye. A three-year starter for Clemson, he transferred to MSU, supposedly pursue a specific graduate program, but really because he started to lose playing time after making 103 tackles in 2009 but made 43 last year. He wants to be a middle linebacker, and he'll get his chance once he gets on campus.
Strength: Options. The Bulldogs might not have its starting three set in stone, but there are several interesting prospects to play around with. There isn't that much of a drop-off, if any, between the ones and the twos, and that's a positive in this case.
Weakness: Chris White and K.J. Wright. The two did everything for the Bulldog defense, and while other players, particularly Hughes, Skinner, and Wilson, have great upside, it's asking a lot to immediately fill in the production.
Outlook: It's premature to call the MSU linebacking situation a concern, but not enough was settled in spring ball and it's a bit of a killer to lose two stars like White and Wright. It'll take a while to find the right three for the starting mix, and Maye could throw everything for a loop later this summer, but the stats will be there and the production will be fine. It just might be half a season before everything starts to work.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The pass defense was an issue. Part of the problem was a run defense that stuffed everyone and forced offenses to throw, and part of the problem was the lack of a pass rush to threaten the better quarterbacks. The Bulldogs allowed 200 yards or more in each of the last ten games, and while there weren't any disastrous meltdowns, the production wasn't great. All four starters return, but unless the front seven can start to hit the quarterback a bit more, the results might now be appreciably better.

There will be a fight for the starting free safety job with sophomore Nickoe Whitley looking to get the job back from senior Wade Bonner. The 6-0, 200-pound Whitley has tremendous speed and range, and he did a nice job against the run making 52 tackles with three interceptions. A good hitter, he needs to be a bit more consistent and could end up playing more of a role in nickel and dime situations, while the 5-10, 190-pound Bonner should be a statistical star after doing a nice job in the starting spot in the final two games of the year. He finished with 39 tackles with 1.5 sacks, but he didn't do enough when the ball was in the air with just one broken up pass. After starting out his career at running back and after starring at corner in high school, he has to prove he can be a playmaker against the pass to cement the starting spot.

Back at strong safety is senior Charles Mitchell, a veteran with 25 career starts who finished third on the team with 93 tackles with three tackles for loss. At 5-11 and 205 pounds he has decent size and is a great hitter, but his game is about speed and athleticism. The 2007 Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year runs a 4.56 40 and can jump out of the stadium, but he didn't pick off any passes last year and only broke up one pass. He's great at stopping the run and should be one of the team's top tacklers again. Working as Mitchell's understudy is 5-11, 190-pound sophomore Dennis Thames , a terrific athlete who made ten tackle with a tackle for loss and two broken up passes. Fast and able to cut on a dime, he has the skills to play anywhere in the secondary.

Back at one corner spot is junior Corey Broomfield after a nice season making 52 tackles with a sack, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three picks. Bothered early by a shoulder injury, he came back to be one of the team's top cover-corners, but the stats were better than his overall play. He's a ball hawk who makes his share of big plays, but the 5-10, 180-pounder also gives up catches. He'll be backed up by 5-11, 195-pound senior Damein Anderson , who served as a solid reserve making 12 tackles with three broken up passes and two fumble recoveries. Fast, he can make things happen as a nickel defender or as a third corner.

Working on the other side is veteran Johnthan Banks, a 6-2, 185-pound junior who came up with a strong year finishing fourth on the team with 54 tackles with a sack, three picks, and seven broken up passes. The team's top free safety in 2009 made the successful transition over to corner, and with his size and toughness, he's physical playmaker who beats up receivers and has become terrific against the run. 5-9, 190-pound senior Marvin Bure can do a little of everything for the secondary, and now he should play a bigger role after making six tackles and forcing a fumble.

Watch Out For … A battle at free safety. Whitley was too good last year not to see time somewhere, but he gave way to Bonner for the final two games of the season and now there will be a rotation. Both players can produce.
Strength: Experience. Five starters return with terrific upside at corner and good veterans at safety. There won't be too many mistakes made by this group, but life would be a lot better if there was a more consistent pass rush to help the cause.
Weakness: Passers. Oddly enough, the one good quarterback who didn't do much last year against the MSU secondary was Cam Newton, and Auburn struggled in a 17-14 win. Everyone else in the SEC outside of the LSU quarterbacks produced without much of a problem. The Bulldogs came up with 13 picks and came up with enough plays to get by, but just about everyone of note winged it for 200 yards or more.
Outlook: There's talent and experience in the secondary, but there are too many big plays allowed and a lack of a pass rush isn't going to help. The corners should be terrific with a little more help, and the safeties are good enough to get by. There's a chance this could be one of the team's biggest areas of improvement.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Sean Brauchle started out the season as the top placekicker after a decent 2009, but he stunk it up early, hurt partly by two blocked kicks, and then it became the Derek DePasquale show. The junior was fantastic hitting 10-of-12 field goals, and while he doesn't have great range, even though he has a nice leg, he didn't miss much of anything over the second half of the season nailing ten of his last 11 kicks.

The punting game was a plus last year, finishing 29th in the nation in net average, and now it'll be up to Baker Swedenberg to take over for Heath Hutchins, who blasted away for a 41.5-yard average putting 24 inside the 20 and forcing 19 fair catches. Swedenberg was a great recruit and is a smart, tough athlete who should be a weapon with a little bit of time.

RB LaDarius Perkins averaged 20.1 yards per kickoff return, and while he didn't show off the flash of Leon Berry, who averaged 26.8 yards per try with a 97 yarder for a score, he's going to be more than fine. WR Chad Bumphis wasn't great, averaging 8.6 yards per punt return, but he's more than serviceable.

Watch Out For … Swedenberg to be strong. The coaching staff will take another year like Hutchins provided last season, but Swedenberg has the talent and potential to be one of the nation's best. It might take a little bit of time, but it's all there to make the punting game a strength.
Strength: DePasquale. It would be nice if there were a few more deep shots, and he doesn't get much work beyond the 45, but he has connected on 20-of-24 field goals over the last two years. He's ultra-reliable inside the 40.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The Bulldogs didn't give up any home runs, but they were consistently awful throughout the year allowing 22.7 yards per try.
Outlook: The MSU special teams have become good under Mullen. A disaster in 2008, this was an area of focus in the regime change, and it shows with a solid kicking game, a decent return game, and okay coverage teams. There needs to be more done on kickoff coverage, and it would be nice if there was more pop on field goals, but everything is fine.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2011 Mississippi State Preview | 2011 Mississippi State Offense
- 2011 Mississippi State Defense | 2011 Mississippi State Depth Chart