Auburn Opponent Scouting Report: Mississippi State Defense and Special Teams

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Oct 4, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill (7) fumbles as he is hit by Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive lineman P.J. Jones (93) at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Dan Mullen’s background as an offensive coach, and the Bulldogs’ overall talent on offense, Mississippi State has a history of either winning with defense. Last season, under first-year defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, it was the defense that carried MSU to a strong finish and an appearance in the Liberty Bowl.

In 2013, Mississippi State ranked fourth in the Southeastern Conference with 349.3 yards allowed per game. The Bulldogs were especially tough against the run, and permitted only 144.2 rushing yards per game last season, which was the fourth best performance in the SEC and ranked 37th in the country. Also, MSU held Auburn to 120 rushing yards last season, which is by far the lowest output of the Gus Malzahn era.

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State was also solid against the pass, and allowed 205.2 passing yards on average, which ranked fifth in the SEC and 22nd nationally. Overall, opponents scored 23 points per game in 2013, which ranked fifth in the league and 33rd in the nation. The team was even better across the last three games of the season, and surrendered only 11.3 points per game in those contests.

This year, the Mississippi State defense is off to a good start, particularly against the run. The Bulldogs have held opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards on average through the first five games of the 2014 season, which places second in the SEC and 11th nationally. They’ve also improved in terms of scoring defense, and have allowed only 19.4 points per game.

However, the pass defense has been horrendous, statistically. MSU ranks dead last in the SEC and 123rd in the country out of 128 teams by allowing 328.2 passing yards per game. That inflated number translates to a total defense that is the second worst in the league at 426.4 yards on average. Yet, the aggressive Bulldogs have forced 12 turnovers, including nine interceptions.