Mississippi State lost its “Minister of Mayhem” two weeks ago when former defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was hired for the same position at the University of Florida.
Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen, however, doesn’t expect a drop-off in his defense’s effectiveness in the upcoming Capital One Orange Bowl.
Mullen said this weekend that Deshea Townsend, the longtime former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back and the team’s cornerbacks coach the past two seasons, will very likely call the plays on defense when the No.8 Bulldogs (10-2) take on No.10 Georgia Tech (10-3) on Wednesday night at Sun Life Stadium.
In addition to Townsend, Mullen said he is keeping his staff and players in comfortable roles that he hopes will maintain the continuity the Bulldogs established for the past four seasons under Collins.
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“We have everybody on the same page; I mean, we have a really good coaching staff,” Mullen said. “Assistant coach John Hevesy has done a good job with the linebackers. He’s been working with them all year, so he just took over that position group.
“Besides that, the rest of the practice runs on the field as exactly as it’s been running before in the meetings, and just scripting assignments [that Geoff Collins used to script] has been the only thing that’s changed. I think I or Deshea will script that part of practice.”
Collins, who was FIU’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in 2010 under then-coach Mario Cristobal, was hired by the Gators on Dec.16 not long after Florida hired Jim McElwain as its new head coach.
At FIU, Collins’ defensive unit led the Sun Belt Conference in total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and turnover margin a year after the Panthers finished 119th nationally in total defense and 111th in scoring defense.
Under Collins this season, Mississippi State ranked 10th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 19.4 points per game, and was the stingiest red zone defense in the country (No.1 red zone in scoring and touchdown percentage).
Last season, the Bulldogs ranked in the top five in the Southeastern Conference in total defense, rushing defense, third-down defense, pass defense and interceptions.
A native of Batesville, Mississippi, Townsend played 13 seasons in the NFL and was a Super Bowl-winning defensive back for the Steelers.
Prior to his hiring at Misssissippi State, Townsend spent two seasons in the NFL as an assistant defensive backs coach with the Arizona Cardinals.
“I think just calling the plays is the biggest adjustment for [Townsend],” Mullen said. “I’ve called plays for an awful long time; you just got to get yourself in a flow. He and I meet that way, talk about it to get himself in the flow of calling plays, and over the course of a game there’s a rhythm you get yourself into and you just have to learn to get yourself into that flow.”
Sophomore linebacker Beniquez Brown said Sunday after the team’s practice at Barry University that the players are confident in Townsend and have established a good rapport with him over the past two seasons.
“All year, Townsend has been with us on the sideline,” Brown said. “He’s an exciting guy to be around. He yells, and he’s jumpy like he’s one of the players.
“Even though [Collins] called the plays, Coach Townsend talked to us a lot. We’re real comfortable having him out there, and we have trust that he’ll do a great job.”