7 way-too-early predictions for Mississippi State’s defense in 2022
Mississippi State’s defense wasn’t great last season.
But it wasn’t bad, either.
The Bulldogs finished 3rd in the SEC in run defense (113.4) and 5th in total defense (345.2).
But the bottom line wasn’t as good.
The 10th-ranked pass defense (231.8) led to State finishing just 9th in scoring defense (25.9).
The loss of standout cornerback Martin Emerson and starting safety Fred Peters create holes to fill, but the other 9 starters return.
So the defense might not be great in 2022, either, but it won’t be bad.
It should be pretty good – much like last season.
Here are 7 way-too-early predictions for Mississippi State’s defense in 2022:
1. The Bulldogs will have more than 30 sacks
Jordan Davis returns after missing all of last season due to a knee injury, and fellow ends De’Monte Russell and Jack Harris also are back after missing time due to injuries. Redshirt freshman Deontay Anderson seems much improved and ready to contribute on the edge also.
State has depth and experience on the line, especially at end, and that will lead to more success at the line of scrimmage, a more consistent pass rush and an increase over the 28 sacks from last season.
2. Tyrus Wheat will reach double figures in sacks
Though the pass rush will start with the work up front, the increased sack total won’t be strictly because of the line.
Far from it.
Linebacker Tyrus Wheat came back for his senior season after leading the team with 7.5 sacks.
He’ll be even better and the decision to come back will pay off for him and the defense.
Thanks in part to additional help from the line, he’ll get to quarterbacks 10 or more times in 2022.
3. Jett Johnson and Nathaniel Watson will combine for at least 200 tackles
Johnson led the team with 87 tackles last season even though he started just 5 games. Watson was right behind him with 84 tackles.
Both will be even more active this season and either is capable of leading the team in tackles.
Regardless of who leads the way, they will average 100-plus tackles between them.
4. The linebackers will be plenty deep
Wheat, Johnson and Watson will all be key contributors, though the unit’s depth took a hit when Aaron Brule transferred to Michigan State.
DeShawn Page drew praise from coordinator Zach Arnett, who said Page will see significant playing time after an impressive spring.
The Bulldogs have other young linebackers who appear ready to compete for snaps on the deep unit.
The rotation will evolve in the summer – and the depth will be just fine in the fall.
5. The secondary will have at least 1 pick-6
The Bulldogs didn’t return any interceptions for a touchdown last season, even though Emmanuel Forbes did so 3 times as a freshman 2 years ago.
Forbes should be State’s top cornerback this season and he’s the prime candidate to have a pick-6 this season. But if he doesn’t have 1, someone else will.
6. CB Decamerion Richardson will have an important role
If Forbes doesn’t get the pick-6, maybe Richardson will.
Or perhaps both will find the end zone.
Regardless of any scoring eventuality, Richardson will be a key player in the secondary, which hopes to rebound a bit after giving up 20 TD passes last year.
Richardson isn’t expected to assume Emerson’s role as the top corner, but he will move into his vacancy in the starting lineup and form an important tandem with Forbes.
7. The Bulldogs will allow more points than they did last season
State has enough depth and experience at all 3 levels to be as good if not better on defense than it was a year ago.
But adding Georgia to the schedule in place of Vanderbilt will push the points allowed total higher.
The defense will be at least marginally improved – even if some numbers aren’t.