To say Mississippi State’s defense struggled mightily in 2016 would be an understatement. And the number of problems seemed nearly endless.
The Bulldogs gave up 31.8 points and 459.1 yards per game, both of which ranked much closer to the bottom of the country than the top (93rd and 110th, respectively). The pass defense was even worse at 281.5 yards per game (120th). While the rush defense was better than most of the other areas (177.5 yards per game, which ranked 70th), it was hardly great.
As bad those numbers were, there was a stretch in which the Bulldogs surrendered more than 600 yards of offense three times in four games.
It’s those struggles that led to coach Dan Mullen hiring Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator – Mullen’s seventh DC in his nine seasons as coach.
Grantham’s hire has brought excitement for the Bulldogs as they approach the halfway point of spring practice, but his track record and the actual time it takes to fix certain issues should lead to tempered expectations.
Grantham’s two previous college stops as a defensive coordinator, Georgia and Louisville, led to immediate improvement in some areas — but not so much in others. And it can be argued he had more proven talent with which to work at both previous stops, especially in the secondary. Grantham will be dealing with a rebuilt front seven this season, though sophomore lineman Jeffrey Simmons and sophomore linebacker Leo Lewis are solid building blocks. As for the secondary, Grantham needs some JC transfers to produce immediately and a few holdovers to play much better — much, much better.
He arrived at Georgia in 2010, and the Bulldogs improved their yards-per-game average on defense from 339.4 in 2009 to 328.5 in 2010. They also went from 25.9 points per game allowed to 22.1 in his first season. In 2011, his second season, those figures dropped to 277.2 yards per game and 20.6 points per game. Sacks and tackles for loss stayed relative, as did red zone and third down efficiency, and the Bulldogs went from 10 picks in 2009 to 16 in 2010.
At Louisville, Grantham’s numbers were considerably different than those of the season before — the wrong way.
Louisville went from giving up 251.5 yards per game (first nationally) in 2013 to 308.5 yards per game in 2014, Grantham’s first season with the Cardinals. Opponents also went from averaging 12.2 points per game (second nationally) to 21.8 points per game. In fairness, the 2014 figures still ranked sixth and 24th nationally, respectively, but the defense definitely was less stingy.
Louisville, like Georgia, did improve in interceptions, going from 16 to 26.
In any case, changing coordinators on either side of the ball isn’t always an automatic fix. Just look at Texas A&M with John Chavis; he has made only marginal improvements at best in his two seasons.
There is no doubt something has to be done in Starkville and Grantham has shown he can make improvements as he has done so at previous stops. But it’s important to remember that more often than not, only so much can be done in a year under new management. These things take time and patience.
(You can follow Jake Wimberly on Twitter @jakewim)
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