Mississippi State defensive coordinator Zach Arnett encountered success in his SEC debut last weekend via the Bulldogs’ 44-34 victory at LSU. But on Wednesday evening, Arnett was quick to point out that his side of the ball has a lot to “clean up”.
Arnett talked about the good, the bad and the ugly as Mississippi State preps for Saturday’s home opener against Arkansas:
Q: Your defense brought a lot of pressure against LSU and had some mismatches with Tyrus Wheat. What was it that you saw that you could exploit there?
Arnett: That is our base defense. Our base defense is to bring pressure. Our guys did a nice job of executing but by no means were we perfect. There were quite a few busts out there that could’ve and should’ve led to points. Thank goodness it didn’t but we have a lot of things to clean up.
Q: Regarding the clean-up process, what in particular did you see that needs improving?
Arnett: Missed assignments, guys either going the wrong way or not executing the call or busted coverage when you got receivers wide open. Thanks goodness one guy (Jordan Davis) in the pass rush can make a Herculean effort and reach out and hits the quarterback’s arm that leads to an interception instead of a touchdown. All of our opponents watching that film are chomping at the bit to play us on defense because they see a whole bunch of opportunities for big plays and points.
Q: The secondary seemed to tackle well on the back end, especially Shawn Preston. What did you take away from his performance when you evaluated the film?
Arnett: Shawn likes to run to the ball and hit. That position he plays in our defense, a lot of times he is down there like at the linebacker level. So he gets to play like a linebacker and that kind of suits him a little bit. But it’s the same with everyone. There’s some good plays made and there were quite a few bad plays made. Obviously the message this week has been we got a lot of improving to do. We can’t be relying on our offense to set an SEC passing record for every week and every game.
Q: Back to the pass rush, what were your thoughts on the pressure the front line was able to bring against LSU?
Arnett: I’ve said this a couple of times and our defensive line is the most experienced group we have on this side of the ball. We need them to play well and generate pressure and cause some havoc because we tend to be young and inexperienced behind them. When you got seniors out there we need them to play like seniors. Fortunately, two of those guys did. But again, missed assignments up there and there’s things we got to be a lot better at.
Q: You talk a lot about missed assignments and wanting to get better. Is that a case of you recognizing that in real time or going back and seeing it when you watched the film?
Arnett: You see things from the sideline and obviously, that’s why you have the press box. We have coaches up there in the press box that will let you know right away so you can try to get things adjusted on the sideline. So we knew about most of them and they all show up on film after the fact. We made enough plays, obviously, enough plays to win the game. That’s not nearly as good as we want to be on the defensive side of the ball.
Q: A lot of talk entering that opener at LSU was about the inexperience in the secondary. How did you think that group held up last Saturday?
Arnett: I think a pleasant surprise was when we called man coverage and we held up pretty well. Now we did give up two touchdowns in man (coverage). It is typically how that coverage goes, right? Boom or bust if you don’t get home. But we did and we sent a lot of pressure and a lot of times we ended up being in zero coverage. Our deep guy in the deep middle is kind of the savior in the sky. They did a decent job when they were playing straight man coverage and the safety back there holding up. That typically means you got a lot of guys coming after the quarterback and if you can cover for a little bit, then you give your front guys a chance to get home. So a few times that worked out, a few times it led to long touchdowns, probably due to (bad) calls by me on those downs and distances.
Q: Martin Emerson left the game for a little bit but came back and made some good plays. How much of a boost does that give your guys?
Arnett: You know, this school is known for physical football teams, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It should be the standard here. You never want to see anyone get banged up but it’s nice to see guys who want to play so bad that they are going to find a way to get back on the field.