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MSU's red-zone defense has been strong

 

Brett Hudson

 

 

STARKVILLE -- The NCAA uses a red zone defense statistic that Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop deems flawed. The metric he uses is a little strange, by his own admission, and may not scale well to judging every defense in the nation against one another. 

 

Whichever statistic you use proves the same point: No. 22 MSU (4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) is as tough as they come in the red zone. 

 

That defense is the reason the Bulldogs had a chance in its two losses and why it beat Auburn; it will need more of the same 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at No. 5 LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC). 

 

"That's a credit to our guys. We've done well, we've fought and we've battled in the red zone," Shoop said. 

 

The stat the NCAA uses -- the one Shoop doesn't like -- is scoring percentage. MSU has allowed opponents to score on 78.57 percent of their red zone trips and that's far from bad, ranking tied for 38th in the nation. 

 

The more nuanced stats paint MSU in an even brighter light. Shoop pointed out of the 14 times opponents have been to the red zone, only four of those resulted in touchdowns, with seven more ending in field goals. That's a touchdown allowed percentage of 28.57, second in the nation. Only two defenses in the last decade have ended an entire season with a red zone touchdown percentage allowed lower than 30 percent: 2012 Utah State and 2016 LSU. Both defenses were led by Dave Aranda, still LSU's defensive coordinator. 

 

Bill Connelly's metric makes MSU's red zone defense just as impressive, even if it expands the scope beyond just the red zone. Connelly measures this by points allowed per scoring opportunity, which he deems as any time the offensive gets a first down inside the 40-yard line. MSU is allowing 3.17 points per scoring opportunity, which ranks third in the nation. 

 

Shoop's metric -- the one the team uses to judge itself -- is the most harsh. It reads like the score of a game. He judges every trip to the red zone as a seven-point opportunity: if the opponent scores, it won that trip 7-0; if MSU holds the opponent without a score, MSU won 7-0; if the opponent kicks a field goal, it's a 4-3 win for the defense. By that system, MSU is down 49-49 on the season. 

 

Shoop's defenders show no signs of shying away from a statistic that demands a high standard. They go about chasing that standard by changing nothing from how they defend the rest of the field. 

 

"We just play our keys, listen to our assignment and play our role. That's all there is to it," defensive end Chauncey Rivers said. "Whatever our role in the defense is, execute the role." 

 

The defense has trusted anyone to do that job, and done so to excellent results. 

 

MSU has faced 20 rushing attempts in the red zone -- not including two quarterback kneels -- and is averaging 1 yard per carry allowed. MSU is also second in the nation in allowing 20 percent completion rate in the red zone, 3 of 15 for 30 yards. 

 

"It starts up front," defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said. "We have to have everybody doing their job, especially with our defensive line: we get tackles for a loss, we get sacks in the red zone. 

 

"Communication's the big key in the red zone. That and the physicality, too." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson

 

 

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