What went right for Mississippi State football’s defense against Alabama?
The last two weeks, I haven’t given any positives for the defense in these film studies. Their performances against LSU and South Carolina were so totally abysmal that I felt it a waste of time to dissect the very few good plays that occurred in those games.
Mississippi State’s defensive performance against Alabama was not good by any means. However, I didn’t think they played all that terribly. They, at the very least, came out strong, which is more than can be said about their previous outings. And while Bama clearly was trying to just run out the clock in the second half, it was still technically a game in the third quarter. And the defense seemed to settle in some at that point.
How much of this is a reflection of Alabama’s own offensive woes? Likely a good bit. But, nonetheless, MSU didn’t play nearly as bad as they had previously. There were a few nice moments that I deem to be worth highlighting.
Most notably, State managed to find some pass rush against the Crimson Tide. Alabama has had issues in pass protection this season, and despite QB Jalen Milroe’s elusiveness, he’s had his fair share of struggles at evading pass rushers. State’s defense, on the other hand, has been terrible at pressuring opposing QBs, and I would say that for most of this game, they still had a hard time doing that. But there were a few instances where they got after Milroe.
They recorded two sacks on Alabama’s opening drive, the second of which came from a player many fans are likely unfamiliar with. MSU came into the game with several injuries along their defensive line. That included senior DE De’Monte Russell. Who did they turn to with De’Monte out?
How about his younger brother? RS freshman Donterry Russell saw the first major action of his career on Saturday, and he was up for the moment. The younger Russell had five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks playing off the edge against the Tide.
His first sack was a thing of beauty. It’s 3rd & 12, and State is going to show pressure from their linebackers before bailing out into drop-8 coverage. Milroe had some issues handling those looks against Texas and Ole Miss, so it makes sense that State would mix it in on the opening series.
Bama keeps the TE in to protect, so they’ve got six blockers against just three pass rushers. Russell is playing as a 6-tech, head-up on the TE. Because the pre-snap alignment shows the threat of interior pressure from the LBs, the RT doesn’t give the TE any help the block Russell off the edge.
Russell initially tries to win inside through the C-gap, but Milroe chooses to rollout to his right. Russell recognizes this, performs a vicious spin move to get around the TE, and clobbers Milroe. That’s the type of pass rush win off the edge we just have not seen out of Mississippi State’s edge rushers this season.
State had another great pass rush look late in the third quarter. Bama has a 3rd & 4 from the MSU 14. The Bulldogs badly needed a stop here after a long drive if they wanted there to be any somewhat plausible chance at coming back in the game. They dial up a zero blitz. Everyone in the front-6 is rushing, and each member of the secondary is manned-up with a Bama receiver.
This is a cool pressure from State. Both Jaden Crumedy and Nathan Pickering align in the A-gaps as 1-techs (Crumedy to the weakside, Pickering to the strongside). LB Khalid Moore and Donterry Russell have the edges, LB DeShawn Page walks up the threathen the strongside B-gap, and Bookie Watson is playing off from his MLB spot.
You get double stunts along the interior. Crumedy attacks his A-gap while Pickering loops around to the weakside B-gap. Page slants to the strongside A-gap, creating a void in the strongside B-gap for Bookie Watson to rush. You’ve got a rusher in all six gaps with just the five OL there to block. Someone is going to come free.
Bookie gets the initial pressure on Milroe, but just before he can make the sack, the RG gets off his block of DeShawn Page to pick up Bookie. The RG thinks the C will handle Page, but the C is already occupied by Crumedy. Page is left free to make the sack. Many of Mississippi State’s blitzes this season have failed to get home quick enough to avoid getting burnt for a completion. But this one worked to perfection.