2012 Mississippi State Preview – Defense
Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks
Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks
Posted Jun 27, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Mississippi State Bulldog Defense

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preview 2012 - Defense

- 2012 Mississippi State Preview | 2012 Mississippi State Offense
- 2012 Mississippi State Defense | 2012 Mississippi State Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The defense kept up its end of the bargain last season getting blasted by Auburn and Arkansas and holding up well against just about everyone else – including LSU and Alabama. Now the production should be even better led by a loaded secondary led by All-America candidate Johnthan Banks at one corner. The linebacking corps that was supposed to be a concern last year turned into a strength as the season went on, and now it should be dynamite on the outside with Cameron Lawrence about to get more recognition as one of the SEC's best defenders. Despite losing tackle Fletcher Cox up front, the line shouldn't have any problems getting into the backfield and might have found a pass rushing superstar on the outside in JUCO transfer Denico Autry.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Cameron Lawrence, 123
Sacks: Josh Boyd, 4.5
Interceptions: Johnthan Banks, 5

Star of the defense: Senior CB Johnthan Banks
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DT Curtis Virges
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Denico Autry
Best pro prospect: Banks
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Banks, 2) LB Cameron Lawrence, 3) Autry
Strength of the defense: Cornerback, Pressure
Weakness of the defense: Good Passing Teams, No Fletcher Cox

Defensive Line

The key to the defensive front last season was the play of tackle Fletcher Cox, who was great at both stopping the run and getting into the backfield. Now it will be up to senior Josh Boyd to become the main man in the interior after making 51 tackles with 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. At 6-3 and 300 pounds he has the right size to go along with enough quickness to get behind the line on a regular basis. With a full-tilt motor and good experience, he should be in for a big year even with Cox not around to take away the attention.

Trying to take over for Cox is sophomore Curtis Virges, a 6-3, 305-pound run stuffer who made ten tackles with two sacks as part of the rotation. While he's not an elite athlete and he's not going to be a regular pass rusher, he has good size and is active enough to put up nice stats.

Looking ready to become the team's new pass rushing star is Denico Autry, a top JUCO transfer with tremendous burst and potential to put up huge numbers on the outside. The 6-5, 255-pound junior was relentless throughout offseason practices and showed why he was considered such a huge coup for the program. Considering there wasn't enough of a steady presence into the backfield at end last year, he could be the team's most important defensive playmaker.

6-4, 280-pound sophomore Kaleb Eulls turned into a terrific part of the end rotation making 30 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. While he's built to be a 3-4 end or a quick 4-3 tackle, he'll get the call on the outside where he's expected to do even more. A tremendous recruit - he was Scout's fifth-ranked defensive lineman two years ago – all the tools are there to be special.

Adding more speed and quickness to the outside behind Eulls is 6-6, 245-pound sophomore Preston Smith, a tall, rangy athlete who made seven tackles in his first season in the rotation. On the other side, 6-5, 260-pound senior Shane McCardell will work into the mix behind Autry after making 12 tackles with a sack. 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.

Watch Out For … Autry. It might seem crazy, but there losing Cox on the inside might not be a big deal if Autry is as good as advertised on the outside. He was a special JUCO pickup who'll upgrade the pass rush right away.
Strength: Quickness. There might not be a Cox in the interior, but the Bulldogs are terrific at getting into the backfield finishing 27th in the nation in tackles for loss while coming up with 27 sacks. The back seven had its say in the matter, but it all started with an aggressive front four. It was a problem for years that changed around in a hurry last season.
Weakness: Youth. This could actually turn out to be a plus. Boyd is the lone senior among the projected starting four up front, and while there are a few seniors among the reserves, sophomores will play the biggest role. It might take a little while for the line to be stronger against the run.
Outlook: It's a good line that could turn into a very good line if Autry is as good as he looked this offseason. Losing Cox will hurt, but if Boyd turns into an anchor the front four should be fine. It was physical against some of the better SEC ground games, but now there has to be even more consistency..
Unit Rating: 7


Last year was all about rebuilding and reloading a good linebacking corps, and it came through with a decent season. Now the starting three should be far better led by senior Cameron Lawrence, who grew into the job on the outside last season cranking out a team-leading 123 tackles with two sacks, two picks and six tackles for loss. The 6-3, 230-pounder isn't a big-time athlete, but he can get around and he's as tough as nails with a full-tilt motor. He brings a great punch when he gets to the ball.

There should be a good rotation in the middle with redshirt freshman Benardrick McKinney and sophomore Ferlando Bohanna combining forces to take over for Brandon Wilson, who was third on the team with 94 tackles. The 6-5, 235-pound McKinney is built more like a defensive end than a middle linebacker, but he's actually a former dual-threat quarterback. A great athlete, he has great range and terrific upside. The 6-0, 225-pound Bohanna saw a little time making nine tackles with a tackle for loss. Unlike McKinney, Bohanna looks built for the job.

6-2, 245-pound junior Deontae Skinner is a big, strong defender who was one of the stars of spring ball last season and came up with a nice year making 69 tackles with nine tackles for loss. Tough enough to hold up against the run, he's better when he gets shot into the backfield and can be used more as a pass rusher. He'll be backed up by Chris Hughes, a 6-1, 225-pound junior who made 11 tackles as a reserve. Hughes is built more like a big safety and should be in for a better year now that he's a few years removed from an Achilles heel injury.

While 6-2, 215-pound sophomore Matthew Wells will be a backup behind Lawrence, he showed he could handle himself last season making 36 tackles with five tackles for loss. He's not built like a big linebacker, but he can move. A top Mississippi high school running back, he's a great athlete who can get all over the field and can cut on a dime. This year he could be used more as a specialist on third downs.

Watch Out For … the fight in the middle. McKinney has a world of upside and Bohanna is a nice-looking prospect. McKinney should be the better of the two, but they'll combine to hold up on the inside. At least that's the hope.
Strength: Depth. Wells showed last year that he's able to play when needed, while the combination inside should be a plus to keep everyone fresh. Hughes has decent upside if given more of a chance.
Weakness: Forcing fumbles. MSU's linebackers were active and were strong against most teams against the run, but the D didn't come up with enough takeaways. Out of the 24 forced fumbles on the season, 16 came in four games with six against Ole Miss and four against Memphis. Out of those 24, MSU came up with just eight with four of those coming against the Rebels and Tigers.
Outlook: Somewhat quietly this should be a terrific group. There's enough depth to keep everyone fresh, while Skinner and Lawrence are two excellent veterans on the outside. With just one senior on the two-deep, the linebackers will only get better.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

6-2, 185-pound senior Johnthan Banks could've left early for the NFL, but he's back as one of the best-tackling corners in college football making 71 stops with three sacks. The former free safety knows what he's doing on the outside, and now with his experience, size and ball skills, he should be in for a huge final season as the star of the MSU D. While he hits well and is peerless at wrapping up, he's also deadly when the ball is in the air making five picks with nine broken up passes. Teams stopped throwing his way, but he still found ways to be productive. Quick as well as fast, he's also a terrific punt returner taking one for a score against UT-Martin.

With teams almost certainly going to stay away from Banks, senior Corey Broomfield might get tested even more. The 5-10, 180-pounder made 59 tackles with a sack, five tackles for loss with five broken up passes. While he didn't pick off a pass, he was strong in coverage and held up well against the run. He'll give up a few plays, but he wins more than his share of battles.

Battling for playing time at one of the corner jobs, or at least a nickel or dime spot, is senior Darius Slay, a big 6-1, 190-pound veteran who came up with a tremendous offseason after jumping in from the JUCO ranks. He got in a little bit of work making 23 tackles with four broken up passes and a pick-six against Georgia for MSU's only touchdown. With size and athleticism, he has all the tools.

6-1, 215-pound sophomore Dee Arrington will try to step in and replace the team's second-leading tackler, strong safety Charles Mitchell. As a true freshman, Arrington made nine tackles after getting his feet wet, but he has the potential to be a star with a little more time. A Parade All-American and a huge get for the program, he's a pure safety with excellent athleticism and good hitting skills.

Junior free safety Nickoe Whitley has tremendous speed and range, and now he has enough experience to be one of the team's top defenders. After coming up with 52 tackles and three picks he made 34 tackles with four interceptions and two tackles for loss but was knocked out with an Achilles heel injury. He'll try to get back in a hurry, but it takes a long, long time for the type of injury to heal and it might take most of the season before it's right. When 100%, he's one of the SEC's better hitting safeties. If he's not back to form, 5-11, 190-pound sophomore Jay Hughes - a former running back who quickly moved over to the defensive side – will take over one of the safety spots. He's a quick defender who made 11 tackles with a broken up pass.

Watch Out For … Arrington. The corners will be terrific and Whitley will be a statistical star if he can come back healthy. Arrington has the talent to be one of the key parts of the equation; it'll be a shocker if he's not one of the team's top five tacklers over the next three seasons.
Strength: Corner. Banks should be manning one side of the field for an NFL team, while Broomfield is strong enough to hold his own. Slay might not technically be considered a starter, but he's more than good enough to get the call.
Weakness: Teams that can throw. Yes, the secondary is good, and yes, the stats might have been terrific, but the Bulldogs didn't exactly face a slew of killer passing attacks. Arkansas had no problems throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns. LSU's Jarrett Lee completed 21-of-27 passes for 213 yards and a score with a pick.
Outlook: The secondary came up with 12 touchdown passes and picked off 12 while allowing just 197 yards per game. However, that still made the Bulldogs 11th in the SEC in pass defense. The corners will be outstanding while the safeties could be special if Whitley is 100% and if Arrington is as good as expected.
Unit Rating: 8.5

Special Teams

Kicker Derek DePasquale is gone after hitting 12-of-18 field goals with four of the misses coming from beyond 40 yards. In steps junior Brian Egan, a top recruit and a Parade All-American with a good leg and nice potential. He was the team's kickoff specialist forcing six touchbacks, but he has to prove he can handle the pressure situations after missing his only attempt from 29 yards out against Alabama.

The punting tame was a strength with junior Baker Swedenberg averaging 41.8 yards per kick. While he put eight kicks into the end zone, he also forced 21 fair catches and put 19 inside the 20. A great recruit, he's a smart, tough athlete who has turned into a weapon.

Star corner Johnthan Banks is a strong punt returner averaging 10.4 yards per try with a score, but it could be up to LaDarius Perkins to make a bigger splash to help out a struggling kickoff return game. He averaged 22.7 yards per try but the team averaged just 18.5 yards per return.

Watch Out For … Egan. All the pressure will be on to be reliable from the start. The Bulldogs only played one game decided by less than a three points, but DePasquale missed two kicks in the 14-12 loss to South Carolina.
Strength: The punting game. Swedenberg was great at pinning teams deep and he blasted away from time to time when needed. The coverage team allowed just five yards per try.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. Perkins ripped off a 68-yarder and Jameon Lewis came up with a 50-yard return. That was about it for a kickoff return game that didn't do much to give a muddling offense mediocre field position.
Outlook: After a few years of good special teams play under Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs struggled a bit with their consistency. The spotlight will be on Egan to produce right away and some help is needed to add a bit more pop to the return game, but the punting will be strong and the coverage teams should be solid.
Unit Rating: 6

- 2012 Mississippi State Preview | 2012 Mississippi State Offense
- 2012 Mississippi State Defense | 2012 Mississippi State Depth Chart