September 5, 2010 12:28:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- With a short-week of preparation for Thursday''s matchup with Auburn, Mississippi State needed to have a thorough performance against Memphis.
The Bulldogs got it on both sides of the ball Saturday, but it was their defensive pressure in first-year coordinator Manny Diaz''s system that helped add to the point total and lay the groundwork for Gus Malzahn and Auburn''s dynamic offense.
State forced a pair of turnovers and had six tackles for loss against Memphis, limiting the Tigers to a salty 237 total yards of offense. Most of the damage came against true freshman quarterback Ryan Williams, but the multiple fronts and pressure packages dialed up by Diaz limited the Tigers'' ground game as well.
Defensive end Pernell McPhee said he could sense the confusion of Memphis'' offense.
"Most of the time, they were out there calling slide protections where they was sliding away from the blitz," McPhee said. "They didn''t know they were going away from the blitz. They had a lot of confusion out there."
Though the Bulldogs were effective on defense, McPhee admitted the team ran just three of its 20 blitz packages and focused on taking correct steps and improving fundamentals.
"We were calm and relaxed," McPhee said. "We were working on showing different disguises and doing different things their offense hadn''t seen us do. We''ll run some blitzes where it looks like we''re coming one way but we''re really coming the other way. We''ve got a lot more of them."
Diaz was pleased with the first-game performance but admitted Thursday''s opponent, Auburn, is a "different animal." That said, he wasn''t particularly impressed with the Bulldogs'' ability to capitalize on bad throws from the Memphis offense. He lamented the team''s lack of negative plays forced, insisting the team needs to create more behind the line of scrimmage to fully maximize their potential in the new system.
"No matter who we have coming up, especially when you''re new and trying to establish a system, you want the game to match watch you''re trying to accomplish," Diaz said. "[Creating negative plays] is something we have to do and something we''re built for. I think Memphis did a good job of getting the ball out of the quarterback''s hands. When that happens, you get a couple of interceptions and several others that we could have caught. We can''t drop them and clap our hands.
"To be who we want to be, we''ve got to catch those balls and punish teams. We''re a big-play defense. I don''t know if we made enough big plays tonight."
Fresh faces make impact
MSU coaches and players spent preseason raving about sophomore wideout Brandon Heavens and redshirt freshman running back LaDarius Perkins.
After Saturday''s game, it was clear what elements were missing from last year''s MSU offense, as both flashed the big-play potential the spread offense requires.
Heavens earned a start at wide receiver and responded with a game high 112 yards and two touchdowns on five catches. Perkins split carries with Robert Elliott and Vick Ballard and finished with 59 yards on eight carries.
Heavens'' first touchdown catch came from Tyler Russell, clearing a pair of Memphis defenders to find Heavens from 20 yards out.
"I saw when he jumped and I saw the ball go right through his hands," Heavens said. "I was like, ''Ohhhh'' and the ball came pretty fast, so I just caught it."
Heavens earned the start of sophomore Chad Bumphis, though the latter cleared 100 yards receiving in the game.
"As long as one of us is in the game and we have a threat every play, it is good," Heavens said.
It was Heavens'' contribution, though, that could prove to be the brighter spot as State''s lack of experienced receiving depth was a concern ahead of the season.
Still, Mullen feels the team must find a few more reliable receivers to hit full stride.
"The receiving corps, still need a little bit more balance spreading the ball around a little bit, even though Brandon and Leon and Chad all had big games," Mullen said. "We just got to keep moving it around. That''s a whole different ball game when you start conference play."