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December 27, 2013

Collins sees challenge in Rice offense

Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was faced with many obstacles in his first year as full-time defensive coordinator in the SEC. Facing offenses from Alabama, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Auburn helped prepare him and his defense for another tough offense in Rice, the Bulldogs' Liberty Bowl opponent in less than a week.

"They can run the ball. I think they're 11th in the country running the football," Collins said of the Owls' attack. "They do a great job with what they do. They don't run bad plays. They've got a great offensive line and great skill kids. The quarterback and the wildcat quarterback do a great job. I think they've got six or seven of their skill players that have played quarterback before. So they pose a lot of threats and they're well coached."

The Conference USA champs had a magical season for themselves as they went all the way to the title game against Marshall and defeated the Thundering Herd for the trophy propelling them to the Liberty Bowl and 10 wins. Collins couldn't say enough about the coaching, but he mentioned that the athletes make the team go to the next level.

"They have SEC players and they've got an SEC scheme. They do a really nice job with the schemes that they have and you see how well coached that they are and the different tweaks that they have against every defense. The kids know what they're doing and they play really hard and really physical."

Collins is preparing for a tough playmaker at quarterback in Taylor McHargue who has led the Owls to 2,261 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air as well as 466 yards on the ground good for second on the team. The coordinator notes that the fact that he's already faced an SEC defense makes him even more dangerous.

"The first game when they played Texas A&M, that kid put on a show," Collins said of the Rice QB. "He's running around making plays. The thing that you see when you watch their tape, they've got the same group of guys on their sideline (as we do) getting hype, waving towels and having a lot of excitement. You can tell that they're a good football team."

MSU has been working for the past two weeks and gotten a lot of great opportunities for younger players to develop. Now, however, it's time for the older group to get back into their regular mode with game week quickly approaching.

"The first part of the week was development with the young guys playing. Then we got into game-planning mode working on the defense and the older guys got back in the rhythm. We're getting ready to play a game. When we leave Starkville, we want to be game ready."

While the older Dawgs are getting back out on the field, the first part of bowl practices was a good chance for the coaches to see what they have going for them in the future. With a scrimmage in the stadium last week, Collins saw a lot of good from the bench players and a lot of room for improvement that will come with time.

"Some of the practices have been a little bit better," Collins said of his younger players. "Some of those guys in the scrimmage were playing their first time inside of that stadium. They had played great for three days in practice and then we get over to the stadium and things change a little bit. It's nice that it happened during bowl prep then they'll get to do it twice in the spring and then preseason. Hopefully by next year those young guys would have gotten some good experiences and be ready for SEC play."

Some guys that Collins has had to force into reps this week actually will be needed come December 31. With the season-ending injuries of Jay Hughes and Nickoe Whitley at safety, the Bulldogs are left with a bare cupboard at the back of the secondary.

"All year guys have had to step up. You lose Jay Hughes and Dee (Arrinton) and Nickoe plays banged up most of the season so those guys have had to get experience. They're just going to have to step up in an even bigger role. We'll miss Nickoe because he was a leader who had 40-plus starts in his career and was active current interception leader. He's a big piece of what we did on defense this year. Those guys have got to step up for us in the bowl game."

Arrington has gotten many reps during the bowl practices but he could be lined up for a medical redshirt after his season which opens the door for redshirt freshman Deontay Evans who's gotten on the field a lot in his first active year. Collins said they'll chart the play of his group and make a decision when the bowl game comes around.

"During the bowl prep we moved a lot of guys around to give them some different experiences and see what they could do. He knows how to do different things so we'll just have to see what he does during the game."

As for the rest of Collins' unit, he couldn't be more proud. With the injuries and youth throughout the entire defensive group, Collins counts the year as a success but there's more work to be done.

"I think this group, even though we started off real young, the experiences that they've had this season and battles they've faced have really prepared them. I think they've got the right mindset going into the bowl game. I think they know what a great opponent it is and you don't win 10 games in college football without being a great team. They know that it's a great challenge ahead."

The Bulldogs are currently settled in at Memphis and going through their final prep for the Bowl game on Tuesday afternoon.

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