Defensive overhaul focus of Mississippi State's spring

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was clear that changes needed to be made after a mediocre season.

His top priority: A more physical and aggressive demeanor on the defensive side of the ball.

Mullen hired former Louisville and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham over the winter to handle the overhaul. That process started this spring and was evident in Saturday's intrasquad spring game.

The White squad defeated the Maroon 21-10 in a game that featured five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. Starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald threw four of those interceptions while freshman cornerback Cameron Dantzler and safety Brian Cole had the interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Dantzler had two interceptions in the game.

''You know the defense I want to play here with, which is guys flying to the football as hard as they can, trying to go make plays and playing an aggressive style of defense,'' Mullen said. ''We want to be aggressive and flying around. I saw some of that out there on the field today.''

Mississippi State's defensive changes include Grantham and safeties coach Ron English, but weren't limited to the coaching staff. The Bulldogs brought in four junior college defensive linemen - Montez Sweat, Lee Autry, Deion Pope and Chauncey Rivers - to beef up the front line. Sweat (Michigan State) and Rivers (Georgia) have both played at the Football Bowl Subdivision level before.

''When you look at the new guys that have come in, you look at Montez Sweat and he is an impactful player,'' Grantham said. ''Chauncey Rivers is an impactful guy that can make plays on the edge and play multiple spots.

Mississippi State needed some changes on defense after a rough season that included a 6-7 record. The Bulldogs' main problem was they struggled to stop anybody, giving up nearly 32 points per game which ranked 13th out of 14 Southeastern Conference teams.

Grantham said that young players already on the roster like linebacker Gerri Green and defensive end Marquiss Spencer have also improved quickly and should be able to help the Bulldogs in the fall.

This spring Grantham praised his group for their energy and intensity on the practice fields, but they also have a few things to fix before the season arrives.

''I think we have to understanding the situation a little bit better,'' Grantham said. ''We got to understand what it means in the red zone, what they're going to do. Third down is third down but you got to understand the down and distance and what is going to happen relative to the sticks.''

The Bulldogs will officially conclude spring drills Tuesday with their final practice session.

-----

More AP college football: collegefootball.ap.org and twitter.com/AP-Top25

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.