Prior to arriving at Kansas State as part of first-year head coach Chris Klieman’s staff, Van Malone spent a year at Mississippi State as a defensive quality control coach.
And what a year it was for the Bulldogs’ defense.
Mississippi State finished first nationally in total defense, allowing just 263.1 yards per game, more than 12 yards fewer than second-place Michigan. The Bulldogs ranked No. 2 in the country in scoring defense, permitting only 13.2 points per contest; only undefeated national champion Clemson (13.1 ppg) was better. Mississippi State also was among the best in the FBS in both rushing defense (95.08 yards per game; second) and pass defense (168 ypg; seventh), making it the only unit in the country to end among the top 10 in all four major defensive categories.
Though Malone wasn’t an on-field assistant last season, he still had a role in that success.
Now, K-State hopes to use some of his knowledge to its advantage Saturday, when it travels to Starkville, Mississippi, for an 11 a.m. kickoff against Mississippi State.
“With Van, I think he can just tell the guys about the environment, what it was like in the locker room before playing K-State, just little things like that,” Klieman said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. “He may know some of the personnel.”
Defensive ends coach Buddy Wyatt said Malone already assisted in that area during film breakdown of the Bulldogs.
“He was around it,” Wyatt said. “Personnel, probably more than anything, is what Van has helped us with: ‘Who can do what? What hurts this particular player?’ Things like that. I think that’s the biggest way Van’s been able to help us.”
While Malone’s insight during film study has been beneficial, it’s even more useful during staff meetings, Joe Klanderman said.
“He’s been around those guys,” said Klanderman, K-State’s safeties coach and Malone’s counterpart tutoring the secondary. “He understands — sometimes when you see the tape, it’s not a complete representation of what a kid maybe really is. If you look at our tape and some of the limited snaps that we’ve had, maybe you don’t get a full understanding of what some of our guys really are. ... I think that definitely helps our guys. (Like), ‘What gets in his head? What makes these guys work?’”
Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham wasn’t convinced that Malone knowing strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of some of the players on the Bulldogs’ roster was his greatest asset.
Instead, Messingham said Malone can illustrate to K-State’s players what the atmosphere— cowbells and all — at Davis Wade Stadium will be like Saturday morning.
“We’ll be able to handle the environment if we just stay where (we’re) at,” Messingham said, “as far as, ‘Play the play that you’re getting ready to play. Don’t worry about what just happened. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen two plays from now. Just stay in the moment and we’ll be fine.’”