MSU defense to be challenged by Kansas State

Mississippi State defensive lineman Montez Sweat (9)

Staff Writer

In the age of spread looks and no-huddle offenses, it’s a bit unusual for football teams to line up and run right at opponents.

Yet that might be exactly what Mississippi State sees on Saturday when the Bulldogs face their first road test of the season at Kansas State.

The Wildcats are a run-first squad and it’s a test MSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is preparing his unit to pass with flying colors.

“It’s not like playing an academy, but it is like playing an academy,” Shoop said of facing Kansas State. “They run a lot of gap scheme plays and a little single wing. They’ll snap it directly to the quarterback and he’ll keep the ball, so we have to be very, very precise. We have to be physical up front. We have to fit the run game properly, then we’ve got to stop the run on first and second down. If we can get them to third-and-6 or third-and-7 or more, then we can do some of the things that we really enjoy doing.”

Of course what Shoop and the Bulldogs thrive on is putting pressure on quarterbacks, getting tackles in the backfield and forcing signal callers to make bad decisions. MSU did much of that last week in a blowout 63-6 win over Stephen F. Austin. In that game, the Bulldogs racked up four total sacks and a school-record 17 tackles for loss.

It was impressive, but when brought into focus, Shoop and the Bulldogs – despite their respect for Stephen F. Austin – realize it all came against an inferior opponent.

“Yeah, that was a good start,” Shoop said. “Let’s not get crazy. We didn’t beat the Green Bay Packers.”

The challenge stiffens this week on the road against a usually-strong Big 12 foe. Kansas State, which won its opener 27-24 over South Dakota, will most likely turn to its traditional ground-game success to try and send the Bulldogs back to Starkville with a loss.

To counter, Shoop says there’s a strong chance MSU’s linebackers are more active this week than last. In most of MSU’s defensive sets last week, the Bulldogs utilized only two linebackers. Mississippi State is likely to use a traditional 4-3 set more frequently against Kansas State.

“Based on what Kansas State does, there may be times (linebackers Erroll Thompson, Leo Lewis and Willie Gay, Jr.) are in the game together because there are going to be some bigger personnel groupings," Shoop said. "We did a little bit of that the other day (against Stephen F. Austin), but we were pretty vanilla. We didn’t show a lot of things. We really only played one or two calls, but we’ll have a little bit more in this week in case we need it.”

True to form, last week was a run-first kind of game for Kansas State. The Wildcats gained 256 of their 408 total yards on the ground. Kansas State rushed the football 47 times with just 28 pass attempts.

There’s obviously a chance the Wildcats could try to shake things up a little more this week and test MSU’s secondary. Should that happen, Shoop insists his defensive backs are up for the challenge.

If the Wildcats try to run over the Bulldogs though, Shoop said his unit will be looking for it.

“They do some things that will require us to play tough in the run game,” Shoop said. “If having three linebackers on the field is best for that situation, then we’ll do that, and Willie and Leo are athletic enough to still play in space and cover and things like that.”