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Mississippi State defensive line shows improvement


Danny P Smith



STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State defensive coordinator Carl Torbush believes the defensive line is the most improved part of his unit. 


The Bulldogs struggled in that area last season, especially when it came to stopping the run. 


MSU''s defense allowed opponents to rush for an average of 150.9 yards per game last year, which was 11th out of the 12 programs in the Southeastern Conference. 


Torbush knows that has to change if the defense has a chance to stop the teams on this year''s schedule, especially the wishbone-attacking Georgia Tech. 


"If we don''t stop the run, then the passing attack gets better," Torbush said. "If opponents believe they can pass or run, then you don''t want to have that. The one thing we''ve got to do is hopefully stop the run to force people to be one dimensional. If you get in a situation where you can''t stop the run or pass you''ve really got some problems." 


MSU''s defensive scheme won''t change this season. Torbush believes in using the same base 4-3 defense (four defensive lineman, three linebackers) Ellis Johnson and Charlie Harbison -- the last two defensive coordinators -- did. 


New coach Dan Mullen hopes his decision to hire Torbush will help his team''s defense play an attacking brand of football. 


Mullen has helped emphasize the importance of that mind-set by stressing the need to play with "relentless effort." 


"That''s something we''re constantly harping on and preaching," MSU defensive line coach David Turner said. 


Junior right tackle Pernell McPhee, a transfer from Itawamba Community College, has heard that a few times since he enrolled in school in January. 


If the defensive line can give what the coaches ask, McPhee believes it will lead to positive results this season. 


"Many things have been stressed, but stopping the run and getting a pass rush is our focus," McPhee said. "The most important thing is run toward the ball because every day in practice we have these drills where we do that, and I think that helps us out a lot." 


McPhee is mainly known as a pass-rushing specialist. He led the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges with 13 1/2 sacks last season, but Torbush, Turner, and Mullen hope to capitalize on McPhee''s athletic ability by playing him inside. 


"Pernell is a solid player for us, and playing him a little bit on the inside is kind of new for him," Mullen said. "He is still learning all the techniques of playing inside rather than playing defensive end." 


Torbush is concerned with the Bulldogs'' size up front. Left tackle Kyle Love is 310 pounds, while McPhee and reserve left tackle Charles Burns are 275. No other Bulldog on the two-deep up front weighs more than 255. 


The projected starters across the front are McPhee, Love, defensive end Brandon Cooper (255 pounds), and defensive end Sean Ferguson (245 pounds). 


Torbush expects the defensive linemen to make up for what they lack in size with effort. 


After the defensive linemen didn''t move as fast or as quickly in the spring as he felt like they needed to in the spring, Torbush thinks strength training coach Matt Balis helped affect a change. 


"He has gotten them bigger and stronger, which we need to," Torbush said. "They are flying around and they are going to make a lot of plays just because of effort." 


Torbush has confidence in Turner''s ability to get the defensive line ready, and likes the way he coaches technique.  


Turner is one of the few holdovers from the staff of former coach Sylvester Croom. He said this year''s defensive line is the most athletic he has had in his time at MSU. 


"We''ve created some depth with recruiting," Turner said. "We''ve got about 16 guys, which is good because the guys look around and understand every day they''ve got to come out and compete. 


"It''s not a situation where they can come out and take a day off or practice off, which is only going to make them better and it''s going to make us better on defense." 


Turner especially likes the size and athletic ability the team''s freshmen provide. 


"They are what we thought they were when we recruited them, and maybe a little bit better," Turner said. "First and foremost in this league, you''ve got to be able to run on defense." 




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