How Much Can Mississippi State Bend Without Breaking Against the Aggies?


Sep 26, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Peyton Barber (25) is brought down by Mississippi State Bulldogs defense during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Bend but don’t break. It is the calling card of the Manny Diaz led defense. The Bulldogs had great success using this philosophy in 2010, but after some really bad showings in Texas, when Diaz was brought back to lead the defense for Mississippi State, some wondered just how good his defensive philosophies could be this season.

There have been lots of complaints about the defense. Some are justifiable. The Bulldogs have repeatedly missed tackles and allowed the opposing offense to gain 5 10, and often more yards simply because they were unable to make a tackle.

Some of the criticism of the defense has been “prisoner of the moment” complaints. If the defense gives up a first down or moves beyond midfield, people start freaking out. To properly evaluate the effectiveness of the defense, you have to understand the defensive scheme being employed.

The Manny Diaz approach to defense is simple in its goal. Keep the opposing team from big, explosive plays and try to force them into a mistake which causes a drive to stall. If the offense reaches the red zone, the limited amount of space the offense has to work with makes it more difficult for them to continue to make forward progress and reach the end zone. This often results in a field goal attempt.

Manny Diaz is not running a “soft zone”. That is almost always what I hear when people start complaining about the defense. The Bulldogs currently rank third in the SEC in sacks. It’s almost impossible to play a soft zone and rack up that many sacks.

So the real question is what do the stats say about Manny Diaz and his defense? Most people define an explosive play as being for 20 yards or more. Currently, the Bulldogs have given up 10 plays that have gone for 20-29 yards. That’s good for 18th best in the country. They have given up 4 plays which have resulted in 30-39 yard gains, also good for 18th in the country. And they have given up 2 plays of 40-49 yards, which is 22nd in the country. They have yet to give up a play of 50 yards or more.

The big plays the Bulldog defense gave up in 2014 have been drastically cut down. The Bulldogs are giving up 14.8 points per game, with the most being 21 to LSU. LSU put up 42 points against Auburn and 34 against Syracuse. The did a great job of slowing the Tigers down.

The passing defense has also improved by leaps and bounds. The Bulldogs are giving up about 100 less yards per game than they were in 2014.

Now the rebuttal to this argument would be the teams the Bulldogs have played. None of the Bulldog opponents have made a habit of airing the ball out and seeing what the secondary is capable of. This Saturday will be the biggest test for this group so far in 2015. The Aggies throw the ball around a lot.

The defense is likely going to give up some yards and some points. The key will be how often we can force the Aggies to kick field goals instead of score touchdowns. I think the key will be holding the Aggies to 30 points or less. The more they score over 30, the more likely it is that Mississippi State will bend so much they snap in half.

Next: Keep and Eye Out for Aggie QB Kyler Murray