It stands to reason that no team will get better upon losing a coach in the middle of bowl preparation. Mississippi State is no exception.

The Bulldogs knew their defense would suffer when defensive coordinator Geoff Collins took the same position with the Florida Gators earlier this month.

But what complicates matters even more is that Collins left town just as Mississippi State began preparing for Georgia Tech’s unorthodox triple option offense — an offense that requires defenses to remain disciplined and fundamentally sound on every snap.

Discipline and fundamentals are often traits instilled by a coach or coordinator. Mississippi State’s defense lacks that this bowl season, and it could cost the Bulldogs in their highest-profile bowl appearance in seven decades.

Mississippi State isn’t likely to hire another defensive coordinator before its Orange Bowl showdown on Dec. 31, and even if it does that coordinator won’t begin coaching until the spring.

Instead it has been Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs offensive-minded head coach, who has paid greater attention to his defense since Collins’ departure.

Mullen is no stranger to the defensive side of the ball, but he’s not exactly a defensive mastermind either. He’s served as a head coach for the last six years and served as an offensive coordinator/assistant for eight years before that at Florida, Utah and Bowling Green.

The MSU head coach can certainly decipher the triple option from an offensive coach’s perspective, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can translate that knowledge into a stout defensive game plan. It also doesn’t mean he has an assistant on the staff who can effectively install that game plan prior to the game against the Yellow Jackets.

To effectively defend the triple option, all 11 members of a defense must be in the right place at the right time without being caught up in the moving pieces and misdirection Georgia Tech will employ on every snap.

Most defenses, even ones with an established coordinator leading the way, can’t do that. Georgia Tech ranked 21st in the nation in total offense at nearly 469 yards per game, and it reached that number despite attempting fewer than 15 passes per game.

So while Mullen might know a few tricks to Paul Johnson’s triple option offense, it will be much tougher to teach those tricks to the MSU defense.

Furthermore, without Collins on the staff Mississippi State is losing many of its own tricks on the defensive side of the ball just weeks before the bowl game.

The Bulldogs returned 18 of their top 22 players on defense this season, and Collins knew the subtleties of each player’s skill set. Few coordinators were as astute in putting particular players in particular roles to make plays. That familiarity was lost when Collins left for Gainesville, and while Mullen is obviously aware of his own players’ abilities, he won’t be able to get as intricate with MSU’s defensive game plan.

Mississippi State may rely on a simpler game plan to counter the Yellow Jackets triple option attack. Coach Johnson is licking his chops at that prospect from Tech’s campus in Atlanta.

The Bulldogs didn’t boast the greatest numbers on defense during the regular season, but they did rank 25th out of 128 FBS teams in run defense, allowing just 126.5 yards per game on the ground. Mississippi State clearly has the talent to stop the potent Georgia Tech rushing attack, especially in its front seven. Just because the defense might take a step back without Collins doesn’t mean it can’t still stop the triple option.

But that goal just became much tougher to achieve. The Bulldogs will be a bit less organized, a bit less disciplined and a bit less aggressive without Collins leading the way. The Yellow Jackets won’t budge an inch from their unrelenting ground game.

Mississippi State may be the better team, but one of its greatest weapons will be watching the game from Gainesville.