After Mississippi State dropped the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss, coach Dan Mullen had some not-so-kind words for the Bulldogs defense and defensive staff. For good reason, too. Despite holding the Rebels to 13-for-30 passing, they gave up nearly 300 yards through the air.

The story for Mississippi State’s defense all season was big plays. The Bulldogs gave up yards in bunches between the 20s, only to tighten up inside the red zone. They finished dead last in the conference in pass plays given up of every 10-yard denomination, only to lead the SEC in red zone defense.

The secondary couldn’t seem to keep anyone in front of them. Oddly enough, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The Bulldogs secondary was actually very good at getting their hands on the ball. It was just that when they didn’t, they were beaten badly.

The quartet of Taveze Calhoun, Tolando Cleveland, Will Redmond and Jamerson Love all ranked in the top 24 in the SEC in pass deflections, registering 8-10 break ups each.

What does that tell us? Well, first of all, things could have been much worse for the Bulldogs’ last-ranked pass defense. Add in linebacker Matthew Wells’ eight deflections and Mississippi State was one of the best teams in the conference at knocking passes away from receivers.

It also shows that, despite poor results, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins had his guys in position to make plays. They came up with plenty of them, too. In addition to all those deflections — 73 in total — State tied for third in the conference with 15 interceptions. Several, like a game-sealing interception in the final seconds against Arkansas, were crucial in getting to 10 wins this season.

The Bulldogs will be losing some contributors in the back seven of their defense. Love and Redmond are both seniors, as was Justin Cox, although he was suspended for off-field legal issues during the season. Calhoun, Cleveland and Redmond should all be back next year, and with more experience they’ll keep more of those receivers in front of them.

Mullen’s 15th-ranked recruiting class, per’s composite team rankings, includes four three- and four-star defensive backfield recruits. With the magic Mullen has worked on many other non-blue chippers, Mississippi State should have more depth and talent along the back line next year.

For as disastrous as the pass defense was at times, it certainly wasn’t all bad. With a year of experience as an SEC West contender under their belts and the skills in place to successfully defend the pass, the Bulldogs secondary should be able to take a step forward in 2015.