STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State's secondary is missing much of the star power that made it so good for three seasons. Safety Jay Hughes says that might not be such a bad thing.
Hughes said cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay — who are both now in the NFL — were terrific players, but the Bulldogs might have become too reliant on their playmaking abilities as the team lost five of six games to end last season.
The new secondary will get a difficult test in the opener against No. 13 Oklahoma State on Aug. 30 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The Cowboys averaged about 45 points and 331 passing yards per game last season.
"Everybody has been saying we're the weakest part of the defense or the team, and we're not trying to hear that," Hughes said.
It remains to be seen if Mississippi State's secondary is indeed a weak link, but there's no denying it's young and inexperienced.
Senior Nickoe Whitley is the lone returning starter after making 88 tackles last season — good for third on the team. But the other three spots will be manned by guys like Hughes, who made 32 tackles last season in a mostly backup role.
Hughes — along with cornerbacks like Cedric Giles and Jamerson Love — will be counted on to handle a much bigger role this season. Hughes says he's relishing the challenge of facing Oklahoma State's accomplished receivers.
"That's all anybody's been talking about," Hughes said. "They say they're better than (former Oklahoma State receivers Justin) Blackmon and Dez Bryant. So if that's true, we're going to have to take care of some business.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Hughes says Mississippi State has the ability to stop Oklahoma State, but must communicate against the up-tempo Cowboys.
The Bulldogs also hope a little extra time in the film room will help spot Oklahoma State's tendencies in the passing game. Hughes said the defense was already studying tape on Tuesday — more than 10 days before the game.
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