STARKVILLE — There are a lot of things to like about Mississippi State as it makes its way through August camp.
The most endearing quality is that the Bulldogs are settled at the most important position: quarterback.
They return seven other starters on offense and eight starters on defense.
There’s optimism for the offensive line, experience for the front seven on defense and a potential play-making pass rusher who wasn’t available last year.
It’s not hard to see a more experienced roster making fewer mistakes such as those that hurt in losses against Memphis, LSU and Arkansas last season.
If the Bulldogs are indeed closer to the team that won at Texas A&M and Auburn they’re going to have to show that with improvement in the secondary.
As good as the Bulldogs were at cornerback last year they still finished 11th in the SEC and 81st in America in pass efficiency defense.
They could occasionally be had on the back end like when LSU quarterback Max Johnson had third-quarter touchdown throws of 64 and 58 yards to let the Tigers open up a 21-3 lead.
So far in camp MSU receivers say they’re being challenged.
“We’ve had some new guys come in, and some other guys are stepping up. Everybody’s chirping and competitive. There’s high energy,” graduate receiver Austin Williams said.
For a second straight year, the Bulldogs have added a safety from the transfer portal.
Last year after coming over from Texas, Jalen Green made 10 starts at strong safety. He had a couple of interceptions and was among the team leaders in passes defended and broken up.
He’s back this season.
The Bulldogs also picked up Jackie Matthews, a graduate transfer from West Virginia.
In the span of a couple of plays earlier this week, he was burned on a crossing route then bodied up Jaden Walley near the back line of the end zone and forced an incomplete pass.
That’s how it’s been in most of the work for receivers against defensive backs. Neither side has dominated, which in the larger picture is kind of what you hope for when you’re practicing against yourself.
The reality is the Bulldogs have a chance to be strong against the run as they were last year.
Jordan Davis, now healthy, may help them increase pass rush which makes everybody in the secondary better.
However, SEC offenses put a lot of pressure on you, and if there’s a weakness, they’ll find it.
The Bulldogs were close to nine or 10 regular-season wins last year.
The fine line between winning and losing is often set by one or two plays.
If the Bulldogs can take a step in the secondary to go with their front six, they could have something really special on defense.
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