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It's impossible to string together winning seasons in the SEC without an opportunistic defense. Mississippi State struggled to aggressively pursue opposing passers in 2012, finishing 13th out of 14 teams in the sacks department.
The Bulldogs brought down the quarterback just 18 times last year under head coach Dan Mullen. Sure, that stat speaks volumes, but its repercussions are expansive.
When you don't regularly get in the face of a quarterback, it allows your opponent to open its playbook and set the tone. The only thing more dangerous than a confident quarterback is a confident offensive play-caller.
After opening the 2012 season with seven straight victories, the Bulldogs entered a downward spiral on defense (though a sputtering offensive effort didn't allow for much wiggle room). Mississippi State suffered four losses in its final five contests, allowing at least 34 points in each defeat.
The team gave up 30 or more points in five of eight SEC matchups, losing all but one of those games. This isn't a program built for offensive duels, so something has to change if Mullen hopes to push his team past mediocrity.
As in-state rival Ole Miss makes major noise with recent success on the recruiting trail, Mississippi State must find a way to answer and rise up in the conference standings. Unheralded Alabama product Dezmond Harris was the only linebacker to join the Bulldogs' 2013 recruiting class so its certainly a position of need.
Class of 2014 commits Gerri Green (Greenville, Miss.) and Deshon Cooper (Decatur, Ga.) will immediately add depth at linebacker. Both players are intriguing prospects because of their size — Green and Cooper each check in at approximately 6'4", 215 pounds — and it wouldn't be a surprise if one of them ended up with his hand in the dirt as a dangerous 5-technique.
Jamoral Graham became the first in-state 2014 player to commit to Mississippi State in May when he picked the Bulldogs over LSU and Ole Miss. Many view the 5'11" Graham as a top receiving target, but Mullen may be tempted to insert him in the secondary, where he would quickly become a playmaker at cornerback.
Collecting a solid verbal from a player of Graham's caliber could ultimately lead to further recruiting success within the state. Some kids are followers and that decision may sway them to join the party in Starkville.
The team's top in-state target should be defensive end Breeland Speaks (Jackson, Miss.), who is still considering the Bulldogs, along with Arkansas and Ole Miss. The 6'4", 285-pound strongside prospect is a run-stuffing menace built to play early.