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Movement up front helps MSU defense generate pressure


Brett Hudson



STARKVILLE -- The movement in the defensive front is almost constant in the seconds before the Mississippi State defense faces a third down. Linebackers and defensive linemen, in some cases safeties, perpetually changing places with one another 


When the dust settles and all but one prospective rusher is set up to on side of the center, it can almost look like the byproduct of presnap chaos. But when it's time to rush the passer, that's exactly the look defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is calling. 


MSU has turned to an overloaded set in select pass-rush situations and it has produced on multiple occasions, playing no small role in MSU ending the weekend with 13 sacks on the season. The Bulldogs unveiled the set against Louisiana Tech in sacking J'Mar Smith four times and introduced new concepts out of it against Kentucky as they sacked Stephen Johnson three times and hurried him four more times. 


"It's a specialty package," Grantham told The Dispatch. "We're just trying create one-on-ones, get some guys some one-on-one pass rush. That's all we're trying to do there. 


"We can blitz out of it, we can play coverage out of it. It's just another way to make the quarterback think and make the offense prepare for things moving forward." 


The sight of as many as four players on one side of the formation compared to one on the other is enough on a quarterback and offensive line. MSU makes it all the more terrifying by combining it with versatility. 


That alignment is independent of the back half of the defense, meaning, as Grantham put it, MSU can use that in both Dime and Nickel. Dime is the common word for defensive sets with six defensive backs while Nickel uses five. That means MSU can use any number of possible coverages behind that overloaded line, giving opponents no tendencies to work off of with MSU does use it. 


There's also no established norm on the players within that unbalanced front. 


Against Louisiana Tech, for example, the first time MSU used it had defensive tackles Jeffery Simmons and Cory Thomas on the overloaded side alongside Montez Sweat; the next time MSU used it, it was Braxton Hoyett and Tre Brown with a different linebacker. 


Even when MSU has its personnel on the field, there's no telling which player ends up where. 


"It really depends on what we see in the backfield," linebacker Gerri Green said. "It can go any way." 


Green is the perfect example: on one play against Kentucky has the lone man to the center's right while four defenders were on the other side. He's also played the role of the edge man on the overload side. 


In either arrangement, everyone on the line knows when this package is called, they have one objective. 


"Every third down," Green said, "it's your time to go get a sack and get after the quarterback." 


Now they can do so in different ways. 


Against Louisiana Tech, the actual pressures from the overloaded set were relatively basic: at its most exotic it would bring one stunt, when a defender loops around another to rush a different gap than the one he's lined across. It was still effective in that method. As Grantham said, the idea was to create 1-on-1 matchups, and putting three on one side of the line does just that with the center, guard and tackle responsible for one defender with too much ground to cover for the backside guard to help. 


MSU diversified against Kentucky. 


One play featured, from left to right, Green as the only man left of center, Simmons over the center and Fletcher Adams over the right guard with Sweat and Dez Harris outside the right tackle. Adams crashed left into the center while Simmons and Green looped behind him to attack right-side offensive linemen from an unexpected angle; they still had to deal with Sweat on a speed rush from the outside. To complicate matters, Harris dropped into coverage. MSU used a similar look to attack interior offensive linemen. 


As MSU moves forward to trying to impact Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond and others, they can know one thing for sure: they haven't seen everything yet. 


"We always get one new one every week: might run it, might not run it," Green said. "We've had that one in for a couple weeks now and it was our first time running it. 


"It always catches them off-guard because we go so many different ways with it." 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson



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