Mike Leach didn’t rush to make his defensive coordinator hire at Mississippi State, which came well after bringing over several members of his Washington State offensive staff to coach the Bulldogs in 2020.

No, Leach waited to land a candidate he had apparently been researching for several years out on the West Coast and even had to beat out Syracuse for in former Sand Diego State coordinator Zach Arnett, who had previously agreed to become the new coordinator for the Orangemen before he later accepted the same role at Mississippi State.

By now you’ve likely heard Arnett runs a 3-3-5 base defense which has some questioning how well his Bulldog defense will play against the run. According to the statistics of his San Diego State defenses, which can be seen below, stopping the run is the key philosophy of Mississippi State’s new defensive coordinator.

“My philosophy is to get the best players on the field and get them to play as hard, as physical, as intense as possible,” Arnett said during his recent media availability, which was shared on YouTube by Logan Lowery. “Typically, a good indicator of physical defense is how they hold up against the run… SEC is as good of football as there is in the country, all the guys on the roster know that, that’s why they came to school here, I don’t think there’s anyone shying away from the challenge. They are excited to get this thing going and see how good we can be.”

When it comes to his 3-3-5 defense, the Bulldogs may soon find themselves at an advantageous position in the SEC when it comes to the issues the defense can give an offense that attempts to prepare for the unique style of defense.

“We hope it’s unique and difficult to prepare for,” Arnett continued. “I do think you’re seeing more multiplicity, variation in schemes that teams are running, you are seeing more 3-3-5 looks, a lot more of it on third down than on first or second, but with the purification of the spread and teams going sideline to sideline, there’s been an effort by defenses to get more athletes on the field and guys that can run and cover space.”

Finally, Arnett shed some light on his decision to join Leach’s MSU program despite having an offer to lead Syracuse’s defense. Considering the current state of the ACC, running Syracuse’s defense could easily be seen as a safer career choice for Arnett.

Mississippi State fans will be glad to know Arnett isn’t the type of coach to back down from a challenge.

“I talked to Coach Leach, and guys on the staff, a couple times over the last couple of years when he was at Washington State,” he said. “When the opportunity finally came to join him and his staff and get an opportunity to coach in the SEC, if you are in this profession, that’s as good of an opportunity as you can ask for. I jumped at the opportunity.”

Mississippi State’s bio for Arnett includes these stats for his defenses since the start of the 2018 season and where his defensive unit has ranked inside the top 15 nationally in since that time:

  • Rushing yards allowed per game (1st – 89.6)
  • Rushing yards allowed per carry (1st – 2.9)
  • Fewest 30-point games allowed (T1st – 2)
  • Fewest 40-point games allowed (T1st – 0 … one of just six teams)
  • Percentage of big plays allowed (2nd – 9.2) with only 153 of 1,658 opponent plays gaining either a 12-plus yard run or 15-plus yard pass
  • Percentage of drives that they kept their opponent from crossing the 50-yard line (4th – 61.3)
  • Percentage drives that their opponent covered less than 25 yards (4th – 60.1)
  • Percentage drives holding their opponent scoreless (6th – 76.3)
  • Points per play allowed (10th – 0.3) and points per possession allowed (10th – 1.3)
  • Yards allowed per play (14th – 4.9)

Mississippi State also recently shared this video featuring Leach’s new staff: