September 24, 2013 10:41:10 PM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State essentially made up for its deficiencies in the secondary with one play.
As Troy began to replicate its offensive success against the Bulldogs defense from the matchup in the previous season, Jamerson Love turned the momentum. With his first career interception return for touchdown, Love took a tipped pass 70 yards back to the end zone for the game's first score and got the Davis Wade Stadium announced crowd of 55,096 incredibly excited.
"That's a product of the pressure up front from our line and when (the quarterback) has to throw the football when he doesn't want to, the ball will be there up for grabs," Love said.
In two home games this season, the MSU defense has caused a turnover on the first drive in each of the contests. Love's interception return is the 11th pass taken back for a touchdown under MSU coach Dan Mullen. It was the first defensive touchdown since the 2012 season opener against Jackson State and something that MSU fans had gotten used to seeing with Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield roaming the cornerback positions the last three season.
"We knew we had some good, young players out there in the secondary," MSU coach Dan Mullen said Tuesday.
After being puzzled by Troy's zone-option offense last year, especially in the pass game, MSU (2-2) held Troy quarterback Corey Robinson to a career low 105 yards passing.
"We got embarrassed and it's because we didn't play a very good football game and nothing they did to us," Robinson said. "We got taken behind the woodshed and beaten. That's about it."
Mississippi State forced a Troy fumble in the red zone during the Trojans' second drive of the contest, marking the first time in 2013 an opponent was held without points when reaching the red zone.
Turnovers were a element of what MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins' mayhem mentality stresses and promised to fans in his first full season in charge of the whole the scheme. Through the first five games of the season, MSU is third in the Southeastern Conference in turnovers forced with eight (four fumbles and four interceptions).
"It was huge to get some pressure on him, make him throw some uncomfortable throws and I thought our secondary did a good job hanging in there and covering," Mullen said after the win Saturday.
After losing two second round picks to the 2013 NFL Draft (Banks and Darius Slay), the MSU secondary was already considered a weak element due simply to inconsistencies that lead with inexperienced players. That was before injuries began to pile up for the Bulldogs defense including a season-ending Achilles tear by junior safety Jay Hughes.
"We've certainly had more young players see the field than we expected with all the injuries early in the season," Mullen said. "That's part of it for our guys because guys have to be ready to seize that moment and make that play."
Love is seen as stability at the cornerback position and MSU (2-2) is now relying on upperclassmen Nickoe Whitley and Dee Arrington at safety to maintain consistency against high-powered tempo offenses. Whitley leads the team with two interceptions and also has a kick block in his final season as the free safety. Arrington has taken over Hughes' strong safety spot and been a solid blitz element from the perimeter with a quarterback hurry and a tackle for loss in the 2013 season.
MSU is in the top four of the SEC in pass defense despite only getting five sacks in four games. Opponents are only getting 6.2 yards per pass attempt and even with more aggressive schemes have only given up nine passing plays over 20 yards.
After Troy (2-2) scored its only touchdown of the evening with six seconds left in the first quarter, the Trojans managed to gain just 38 yards throughout the final three quarters. Against a much more inexperienced secondary, with injury concerns after the first three weeks of play, Robinson never completed two passes in a row all game.
"I really even thought in that first drive against Troy that if we eliminated some stupid penalties on our part, they'd have been off the field sooner," Mullen said. "Typically with young players on defense, after they scored for the first time, I thought our guys adjusted to the speed of the game to shut them down."
MSU will get a infusion of talent back after they play No. 6 LSU (4-0) when they get sophomore cornerback Will Redmond back from suspension. The NCAA ruled Friday Redmond was required to repay $2,660 he received in impermissible benefits, forfeit his eligibility for the 2012 season and was suspended for the first five games of the 2013 season. Redmond, a defensive back from Memphis, Tenn., is eligible to return to the active roster on Oct. 12 against Bowling Green.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.