Just about everyone in Starkville has the Mississippi State-Alabama football matchup on their minds this week.
Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Geoff Collins of the Bulldogs is no different.
“This game means so much for our team,” Collins said. “We work hard and are a team that goes to work every day. The respect factor this game could bring for our program nationally is huge.”
Saturday holds slightly more significance for Collins than just putting MSU in the national spotlight. Before accepting his current position with the Bulldogs, the Conyers, Ga. native spent 2007 as Alabama’s Director of Player Personnel. That connection adds a certain spark as Collins prepares to return to Tuscaloosa.
“It’s always good to see familiar faces and compete against them,” Collins said. “Some of my closest friends are on that staff. It’s always fun to face them. It’s just like anything. You want to put on your best show when playing someone you are close to.”
It comes as no surprise to one of Collins’ linebackers that he builds close relationships wherever he goes. According to MSU linebacker Cameron Lawrence, Collins has built those same relationships with the Bulldogs.
“I cannot say enough about coach Collins and the energy he brings to our team,” Lawrence said. “He has been here with me for two years and has been one of the best coaches I’ve had. He builds relationships with his players. He approaches coaching to build his players up not tear them down.”
Working for both MSU and Alabama has not only provided Collins with special friendships, but it has given him insight into how similar both programs are when it comes to their process of working hard to get better every day.
“We match up with these guys compared to some of the spread teams we have played thus far,” Collins said. “Both teams are very physical and it is going to be a physical game with a bunch of tough guys going at it.”
Collins admits that one of the Crimson Tide’s biggest strengths is that they wear teams down. They have great depth and have guys that can come in and make plays, but Collins is quick to point out that he believes the Bulldogs are ready for the challenge.
“We have so much more depth this season,” Collins said. “Last Saturday, we played eight different linebackers. Last year, we couldn’t have done that. Not only do we have more depth, but it is quality depth. We have some really good guys at ones and twos that are just ready to go out and prove themselves. “
Another key to Saturday’s game for MSU will be to stop the run. Collins credits Alabama as a big physical offensive team that sports a pair of running backs with completely different attack plans. On one side, there is Eddie Lacy who is a “big, powerful back” that “grinds you down and wears you out” and on the other side you have the “explosive and dynamic” T.J. Yeldon who makes “plays in space.”
Saturday will be a physical challenge for both teams, but as Collins states “we are just going to have to put on our pads and come to the game ready to hit.”