August 22, 2013 10:48:41 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University's players in the secondary are fed up listening to analysts break down their team's game next weekend against No. 13 Oklahoma State University in the Texas Kickoff Classic.
They're tired of hearing about the Cowboys' high-octane pass offense and how it will have the advantage against MSU's inexperienced defensive backfield. They're also angered by the lack of respect they're getting and are ready to prove their case.
"Everybody has been saying we're the weakest part of the defense on the team, and we're not trying to hear that," MSU junior safety Jay Hughes said.
MSU lost its starting cornerbacks -- Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay -- to the 2013 NFL draft, while OSU returns eight starters from a offense that averaged 45.7 points per game last season. Hughes was the first to remind the media Tuesday none of those facts will put points on the scoreboard at Reliant Stadium.
But the Cowboys have had a history of success in the Big 12 Conference under coach Mike Gundy. Last year, OSU was third nationally in scoring offense. It was second in 2011, third in 2010, and ninth in 2008. In total offense, the Cowboys were fourth in 2012, third in 2011, third in 2010, and sixth in 2008.
"That's all anybody's been talking about," Hughes said. "They say they're better than (former OSU receivers Justin) Blackmon and Dez Bryant. If that's true, we're going to have to take care of some business."
Blackmon, a two-time All-American, is a member of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. Bryant, another two-time All-American, is a member of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.
MSU coach Dan Mullen believes his secondary under new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is ready for the challenge against one of the nation's best passing attacks.
"Sure," Mullen said with a smile. "We'll find out when we go live. It's a different offense than they see in training camp a lot."
Collins said Wednesday his defense isn't having a problem simulating the speed of OSU's offense after facing fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell every day in practice. But the Bulldogs are trying to implement an attack that is more of a pro style, while the Cowboys feature a high-tempo shotgun approach.
"They give us some tempo, and when we go to a two-minute drill at the beginning and end of practice, it prepares us for what we'll see," Collins said. "We're fired up for the challenge."
For the first time since 2007, MSU will open the season against a Bowl Championship series opponent. OSU's four- and five-wide passing sets figure to present a unique challenge to a defense looking to make a name for itself.
"I think it's like any other defensive back," MSU cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend said. "When the ball is in the air, you have to feel like that ball is yours. And they're going to put it in the air a lot aren't they?"
Hughes said Tuesday he already saw a "game-week atmosphere" in practice, and sees a much more cohesive secondary than the one last year that was led by Banks, the Thorpe Award winner for the nation's top defensive back, and Slay.
"That's what you want in a team," Mullen said. "That's what we tried to build last year. When you look, you want a team that everybody expects to make the play. They're not expecting someone else to do it. Last year, you had some guys that when you needed it, they would always make it. But with a small senior class as we try to build this team, when your number is called, you have to go make the play."