Joe Moorhead was hired to lead Mississippi State’s football program in large part because of his reputation in the world of college football as an outstanding offensive mind. That did not exactly carry over in his first season in Starkville but while the program’s offense struggled at times last season, the defense, led by coordinator Bob Shoop, may have been the best in school history last season.
Mississippi State’s defense led the Southeastern Conference in points allowed per conference game with 14.4 points allowed after eight league games, finished No. 2 in the nation in points allowed per contest after allowing just 13.2 points per game and allowed the fewest touchdowns in the nation after giving up only 15 last season.
Heading into 2019, gone are standouts Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat, Johnathan Abram and Gerri Green while longtime contributors Braxton Hoyett, Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin have also exhausted their eligibility in Starkville. While some coaches would be concerned replacing those players in the lineup, Shoop understands there’s plenty of talent left to work with at Mississippi State heading into the 2019 campaign.
“That’s the nature of college football. You only have guys for three or four years as is. So hopefully you recruit well. Rather than replace, you use the term reload,” Shoop said during his Thursday media availability. “This unit will be different than last year’s unit. It has every opportunity to be just as successful as last year’s unit, but guys have to step up, guys have new roles.
“Obviously, up front, we still think we’re as good as anybody at the defensive end position. You’ve got guys like Kobe Jones and Chauncey Rivers and Fletcher Adams who played a lot last year and a guy like Marquiss Spencer who a year ago this time we thought was one of our best players and missed the entire year. He’s like signing a free agent.”
The best SEC defenses are built from the inside out and those players will have to step up their game to replace the production the defense got from Simmons and Sweat last season but even if they can’t match that incredible goal, the fact that Mississippi State’s linebacker corps may be the best in the SEC should make up for any shortcomings the defensive line may have on the field next season.
That’s something Shoop highlighted when discussing his unit.
“Linebackers should be a strength. Willie Gay Jr., Leo Lewis, and Erroll Thompson have played as much football as anybody in this conference,” Shoop continued. “Should give us a good group there along with Tim Washington, Aaron Brule and Nathaniel Watson.”
Shoop then went on to praise both the experience and talent of his defensive secondary before being asked about the value of having continuity from last season’s defense; Mississippi State’s defense has not the same coordinator in Starkville in back-to-back seasons since 2014.
“This team is not last year’s team but there is carryover. They’re familiar with the terminology, they’re familiar with how we’re going to meet as a unit, and then meet as a position. They’re familiar with how we walk through, how we do this period or that period so that’s been refreshing,” Shoop said. “Erroll Thompson, after a year or two, can half finish my sentences, and Willie Gay Jr. the same way. I know C.J. Morgan and Jaquarius Landrews and Brian Cole are the same way, too. So I think that is a comfort level with regard to that. But, it’s a different team and it’s a different dynamic.
“I made sure I said that at the end of the day. We had two good days but let’s not take anything for granted. Just because you put on that maroon and white doesn’t mean instantly you become a superman. It means you got to work hard, it means you’ve got to uphold the standard set long before I was here as far as a high-level defense at Mississippi State.”