Mississippi State has been one of the nation’s most impressive defenses this season.
The Bulldogs have allowed just one touchdown to an opponent and just five points to the Bulldogs since they returned to Starkville in mid-October.
In a four-game stretch from November 3-12, the Bulldogs have recorded just four touchdowns, three interceptions and one fumble recovered.
It would be a surprise if they don’t average an interception every game, and while that could be difficult for a team that ranks No. 13 nationally in rushing yards per game, it’s been a major reason the Bulldogs are ranked No. 10 in Football Outsiders’ defense efficiency rating.
The most important statistic in that category is pass efficiency, which measures the percentage of plays completed by a quarterback and running back.
The SEC average is 58.7 percent, but Mississippi State ranks No, 3 in pass efficiency.
So when we talk about a defense that has turned the ball over just five times this season, it certainly helps that Mississippi State is one of just three schools in the country to allow more than 100 points per game.
The defense hasn’t been great on the road, but that’s where it gets really interesting.
After playing eight road games this season — two in the Big Ten and two in bowl games — the Bulldogs rank No. 15 in Football Outiders’ FBS-best defense efficiency, allowing just 4.6 yards per play on the ground.
That includes five interceptions, two fumbles and five missed tackles.
Mississippi State also ranks in the top 10 in scoring defense (21.2 points per contest) and total defense (103.2).
That means the Bulldogs aren’t just one of college football’s better defenses when it comes to stopping the run, but they’re also a team capable of scoring points on offense.
The defensive backs, in particular, have played well against the run in the last month.
Safety Darius McCown, who leads the nation in rushing with 1,062 yards and six touchdowns, leads the team with four interceptions and has a league-high eight pass breakups.
He’s also one of only four SEC safeties with a interception and a fumble return touchdown this season; he’s tied for the nation lead in interceptions with six.
McCown has also forced three fumbles, which is good for seventh on the team, and he’s allowed just three touchdowns on the year, which ranks fourth on the Bulldogs.
The secondary has been solid as well, with the top-ranked group in the conference ranking sixth nationally in defensive stop rate, while the top eight teams have the top three defenses in pass defense.
Mississippi St. has been so effective on defense that some fans have been calling for the Bulldogs to get a better pass rush.
The program is ranked fifth nationally in pass rush efficiency, but the Bulldogs still allow just 10.4 points per rush and have allowed the fewest yards per rush of any defense in the SEC.
This is a problem that has existed throughout the program’s history.
After going 7-6 in the 2014 season, the defense needed to be a major factor in the Bulldogs’ season-opening loss to LSU, which had just two sacks allowed.
That loss helped set up a four win season and put the Bulldogs into the SEC title game against South Carolina.
In the game, the offense rushed for just nine yards on eight carries.
After the game was over, coach Dan Mullen said he felt the defense could be a factor in a playoff run.
“We need to be much more consistent,” Mullen told reporters at the time.
“I think you see that from the first day I took over here.
We’re not a defensive unit that can be shut down every single week.”
The Bulldogs are just the latest team to take note of Mississippi State’s defense and have done so with varying degrees of success.
The 2015 season saw Mississippi State fall to No. 3 in the nation, and the team is still ranked in the Top 25 despite that.
It was a season that saw the Bulldogs drop a game to No-4 Oklahoma and then win at Missouri in what was supposed to be their final game of the season.
It has been a tumultuous year for the program.
The first two weeks of the 2016 season saw the team take a huge step backward when quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the entire 2016 season for violating NCAA rules.
The team then lost quarterback Dak Prescott for the season following a knee injury in the team’s opener against Texas A&M and Winston was benched after the team lost at Auburn.
Following that, Mullen was fired and the Bulldogs lost to Vanderbilt and Georgia.
The year ended with the team losing at Oklahoma to fall to 6-6, which came after a win at Vanderbilt.
The next week, the team was swept by Iowa State and Mississippi State fell to No of 4 in the poll, falling just short of a berth in the College Football Playoff.
In 2017, Mullens job was on the line again when he was fired after one season.