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MSU's defense will have to be on alert vs. Houston

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- It''s natural to assume big plays are staples of any high-powered passing offense. 

 

While it''s true for some teams, it works differently for most of today''s spread passing teams.  

 

As the substitute for a traditional running game, spread teams like the University of Houston Cougars utilize quick, precise, short passes to set up long throws down the field. Defending those short passes is this most challenging part of facing the Cougars (3-1) because they will throw approximately five short throws for every deep pass. 

 

Mississippi State (3-2) enters its road game Saturday against Houston looking to rattle a freshman quarterback in Terrance Broadway, who will be without top receiver James Cleveland. Despite the loss of starting quarterback and former Heisman Trophy candidate Case Keenum, MSU players insist Houston won''t change how it operates.  

 

"They get in a five-wide and run a lot of screens," MSU linebacker Chris White said. "They have good passing concepts with their receivers, and it''s tough to stop. 

 

"Stopping the bubble screens, running back screens, jailbreak screens -- those things are big for them." 

 

MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has emphasized getting more than one player to the ball against Cougars. He lauded Houston''s playmakers as "outstanding athletes" capable of winning one-on-one matchups.  

 

The Bulldogs are five games into Diaz''s multiple look, pressure-based scheme. And while the consensus is the unit hasn''t had a complete performance, the three-level blitzes have prepared the team for Houston''s quick passes. 

 

"It helps you out a lot because when you blitz the ball''s coming out quick," cornerback Corey Broomfield said. "You can be patient when covering. You put a lot of confidence in your front four and linebackers to get back there. You''re used to making tackles quick, so it helps a lot." 

 

Diaz wasn''t pleased with the 15 missed tackles MSU had Saturday in a 49-16 win against Alcorn State at Davis Wade Stadium. He blamed the statistic on not having enough players around the football. 

 

"We were in too many one-on-one situations, and then for a multitude of reasons we didn''t make the play Saturday," Diaz said. "We have to get more than one of ours to where one of theirs is (against Houston)." 

 

Getting to the football won''t be as easy as seeing where the pass is going and reacting to it. A myriad screen plays and running back Bryce Beall''s versatility adds extra dimensions to Houston''s offense.  

 

And while Broadway is in his first season at Houston, his ability to run the ball will be the x-factor this weekend, Broomfield said.  

 

"He''s a good athlete, so when we get pressure he''s going to be able to pull it down and run," Broomfield said. "That''s a big threat. We keep going against these running quarterbacks, and it''s hard. You''re covering, getting a pass rush, and no one''s accounting for the quarterback." 

 

Broadway, who is expected to start even though coach Kevin Sumlin said he wouldn''t name a starter until Saturday, enters the game with 258 passing yards on 24 of 26 completions.  

 

Broadway hasn''t been asked to carry the team, but MSU believes he can make any throw the coaches ask of him. 

 

"They kind of protect him a little bit making short throws with screens, bubbles, and stuff like that," MSU cornerback Johnthan Banks said. "But he keeps his poise and can throw it downfield. We''ve got to go out there and play him like we would if we were facing Case Keenum."

 

 

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