As the old saying goes, “numbers never lie,” and the numbers behind Mississippi State’s pass defense say it is the worst in the SEC in 2014.

The Bulldogs are the only team in the conference allowing more than 300 yards per game through the air, and they are still the SEC’s leaders in explosive completions allowed with 11 through six games.

However, although those numbers are not telling a lie, they are telling an incomplete story. Mississippi State’s pass defense isn’t actually as bad as those numbers indicate, and its secondary has more talent than most realize.

Mississippi State plays a style of football that invites teams to throw the ball often against its defense during a game, and that has inflated the Bulldogs’ numbers in pass defense this season. Opponents have attempted 264 passes against Mississippi State, 44 more attempts than any other defense has faced this season. So it stands to reason the Bulldogs would allow more yards through the air than everyone else if opponents throw on them more than everyone else.

Why do opponents throw on Mississippi State so much? The blame can be placed on a potent Bulldogs offense. Mississippi State ranks third in the SEC in scoring offense, averaging nearly 42 points per game through six games this season. It plays with the lead more often than any other team in the SEC, and its opponents almost have to counter with the pass in order to stay within striking distance.

The Bulldogs offense begins and ends with a stout rushing attack, leading to an advantage in time of possession this season. The same opposing offenses playing from behind most of the season have also had to move the ball quickly to keep up on the scoreboard, resulting in a pass-heavy approach.

Another reason teams throw so often when facing MSU’s defense is its menacing front seven. The Bulldogs are loaded with NFL talent along their defensive front, and they have not been kind to opposing rushing attacks this season. Mississippi State has the SEC’s fourth-best rushing defense, and it has allowed opponents to rush for just 120 yards per game at fewer than 3.4 yards per carry. Needless to say, teams throw against Mississippi State just to avoid the buzz saw that is the MSU front seven.

So yes, while the Bulldogs have allowed their fair share of long completions and yardage through the air, it is as much a factor of their style of play as anything else.

The Bulldogs have talent in the secondary, and that talent has made more big plays than most give them credit for.

Mississippi State is tied for second in the conference in interceptions with 11, one behind the SEC’s leader in Ole Miss. The Bulldogs returned both of their starting cornerbacks in Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love, and both have played admirably in their second year as starters. Fellow defensive backs Will Redmond, Matthew Wells and Tolando Cleveland are in the midst of breakout seasons as well, and as a team Mississippi State has six players ranked in the top 50 in the SEC in passes defended, more than any other team in the conference.

The Bulldogs’ numbers in pass defense took a hit in a convincing win over Texas A&M as the Aggies posted big numbers in garbage time to skew the stats on that day. The same can be said of Mississippi State’s win over LSU, which featured two 30-yard touchdown passes in the final four minutes of play with the Bulldogs leading by 18 at the time.

These statistics still count the same, but punishing a great team for resting its starters with a three-score lead against ranked SEC foes seems a bit unfair, don’t you think? Again, the numbers aren’t lying, but they’re telling an incomplete story.

When a game is still hanging in the balance, be it against a non-conference foe like Southern Miss or a ranked SEC opponent like Texas A&M, Mississippi State’s secondary has been as good as any in the nation. Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill, the SEC’s leading passer since opening night, threw for the fewest yards he has in SEC play in the Aggies loss to MSU. He also threw more interceptions in that game than he has in any other game in his career.

The Mississippi State secondary is for real, and it is going to continue to make big plays for America’s No. 1 team in the second half of the season.

Mississippi State has just two games remaining against teams averaging more than 180 yards per game through the air (Kentucky and Alabama) prior to its season finale against Ole Miss. Both the Wildcats and the Crimson Tide boast first-time starters at quarterback, and neither has been tested by a defense the caliber of Mississippi State’s defense.

But that’s all getting ahead of ourselves. For now, appreciate the Bulldogs’ secondary for what it is — a talented unit that has been tested more than any other in the SEC this season yet has managed to help lead MSU to a No. 1 ranking.

Oh, and that No. 1, that number isn’t lying either.