STARKVILLE, Miss. — Todd Grantham’s first spring as Mississippi State defensive coordinator culminated in an impressive showing by his unit in the Maroon and White scrimmage Saturday.
The White squad, which featured the de facto first-team defense, surged to a 21-10 win over the Maroon team behind solid tackling and some stout play in the secondary. Nick Fitzgerald threw 4 interceptions against that unit, although he did so without two starting linemen and three of his projected top targets for 2017.
So perhaps Grantham’s defense walked into Davis Wade Stadium with a numbers advantage. Nonetheless, plays made by defensive backs Jamal Peters, Cameron Dantzler, Brian Cole and Jonathan Abram have to be a welcome sight for Bulldogs fans, who had to watch their secondary struggle through much of last season.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen addressed reporters on the field following the spring game’s conclusion. Here are the highlights:
- Thoughts on the game: “A lot of first opportunities for guys to come out and make plays. Saw some guys make plays out here playing in front of the crowd. Saw some missed opportunities. Next time we come out and play here in front of a crowd, it’s for real. So we got to start making those plays.”
- On Dantzler, who picked off 2 passes: “He’s coming along. It’s nice to see. He got banged up a little earlier this week. To see him come and not be 100 percent, but learn how to play through things, that’s a big thing for young players. It’s great when everybody feels good, but when you don’t feel 100 percent, can you still make those plays. It was good to see him make those.”
- “You know the defense I want to play here — guys flying to the football as hard as they can. Trying to go make plays and playing an aggressive style of defense.”
- “We sat a lot of offensive guys today. If you look at our main running backs, we were able to run the ball. And we’re doing it without two starting linemen. Both starting tight ends are gone. Three starting wideouts hadn’t played today. We kind of limited the number of weapons that were out there on the field. I got to see some things that were pretty good.”
- Mullen added that he has a couple of things he’d like to see the team get done on Tuesday, which is Mississippi State’s final practice of the spring.
- On Nick Gibson: “We kept it really simple for him. And you saw he has some ability running the football. Now what we got to see is the other things from him. And that’s always been the case for him. With route running, pass protections, blocking, some of those things. The consistency of performance. He’s got the running part down. We want to see the complete game.”
- On Keytaon Thompson: “I loved to see the poise he had. He’s such a dynamic runner. When you take that aspect of the game away and you still see he can keep his poise and manage and do those things. He was able to do that. It’s been pretty impressive for an early guy that’s really not even a freshman.”
- On Fitzgerald’s interceptions: “A veteran guy, that’s not going to bother him. A veteran guy, he’s going to be out there, he’s going to keep firing. A guy who doesn’t run the route the right way and gets picked, he’s going to come right back to him and still trust him and give him another chance to make plays. It’s good to see him have that confidence.”
- Mullen added: “Practice is a time where you might take some more chances … he understands all that. He understands where he’s going with the ball. It’s good to see. I wasn’t disappointed with him.”
- Looking ahead to the summer, Mullen said he hopes the team retains what aspects of the offensive and defensive schemes were implemented. “After Tuesday, it’s late July, early August the next time we’re on the field practicing. That’s a long time. Are they coming out at the same level or above of how we walk off the field Tuesday? We cannot take a step back, as a team, as individuals, as anybody. We have got to maintain and maybe slightly increase where we’re at.”