Humbled Mississippi St defense works to correct issues in secondary against South Alabama

Three big passing plays humbled Mississippi State's defense last weekend.

The Bulldogs still managed to win — leaning on the offense for a 47-34 victory over Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday — but coach Dan Mullen knows that won't be the case if the defensive mistakes continue once his team hits Southeastern Conference play later this month.

UAB scored touchdowns on passing plays of 88, 81 and 75 yards against Mississippi State and had 435 total yards through the air.

The secondary was supposed to be one of the Bulldogs' strengths this season. Mullen still believes it will be, but says the defense needs to be smarter sometimes instead of going for the highlight-reel interception.

"If you look at individual performances, guys are doing some good things," Mullen said. 'We want consistent play."

Mississippi State (2-0) travels to face South Alabama (1-0) on Saturday in Mobile, Alabama.

The defensive lapses against UAB were surprising considering the Bulldogs were nearly flawless in a 49-0 victory over Southern Mississippi to start the season.

Mullen said the most frustrating part of the defensive issues is that the unit would play well for three or four plays and then get burned for a huge gain. The Blazers' three touchdown plays accounted for nearly half of their total yardage.

He said there wasn't necessarily a common theme to the breakdowns. Sometimes the defense wasn't in the correct position. Sometimes everyone was in the right place, but someone didn't make a play.

Mullen cited a play where junior cornerback Will Redmond had good position on a deep pass play. He went for the interception instead of simply batting the ball away and the UAB receiver ended up making the catch and scoring a touchdown.

"It's knowing the situation you're in and what to expect from that situation ... and making sure we have the right guy in the right position to go make plays," Mullen said. "We're going to get all of that stuff fixed."

Even with the errors in the secondary, Mississippi State's defense has had its bright spots.

Preston Smith won SEC defensive lineman of the week for the second week in a row after grabbing an interception and running 21 yards for the touchdown. Smith is a 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end, but is tied for first in the Football Bowl Subdivision with two interceptions this season.

Mullen jokingly said on Monday that Smith should be considered for the Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's top cornerback.

"He's tall with long arms and can cover so much ground, get off the ball, tipped balls, all of those things make it tough," Mullen said. "The thing he's changed this year, he's added the size and strength to be a really good every-down player."

Smith is the first Mississippi State player to win defensive lineman of the week twice in one season since Fletcher Cox did it four times in 2011.

Smith said on Saturday that the team's overall defensive performance was "embarrassing," but he was encouraged because "we know guys are more capable of locking down receivers on the deep ball."


Follow David Brandt on Twitter: