How things got Dunn: Sometimes wild but often successful for former DC

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Oct. 29—STARKVILLE — I didn't really think having four defensive linemen stand tall at the line of scrimmage was Mississippi State's best plan for long-term success, even against a sophomore quarterback in his second game as a full-time starter.

But Joe Lee Dunn wanted to try it anyway.

So that's what Dunn did for the first snap or two against Kentucky's Tim Couch in 1997.

Those MSU defensive linemen didn't just stand there. They wiggled, jiggled, danced and did anything they could to disrupt Couch.

That particular alignment was probably not what Jackie Sherrill had in mind when he described Dunn as "innovative" during his introduction as State's defensive coordinator in 1996.

Dunn died earlier this week at the age of 75. The older I get, the younger that seems.

Sherrill and Dunn were not close in 2002 when Sherrill fired Dunn and a shopping cart full of other assistant coaches including offensive coordinator Sparky Woods.

I don't know how close Sherrill and Dunn might have been in recent years or if there was any contact at all, but Sherrill praised Dunn and said he was "ahead of his time" in a Facebook post Wednesday.

"He had the ability to read the minds of offensive coaches before they called the play," Sherrill wrote.

One can only imagine what Dunn read in the mind of Kentucky's young hot-shot offensive coordinator Mike Leach that day.

I knew Dunn's Ole Miss defenses only by reputation, though I covered his MSU defenses every season but his last.

I remember his love of defensive backs and getting that extra speed on the field. Those guys were key in his pressure packages.

There was a common belief that the best way to attack Dunn's defense was to run right at the middle and not let those fast defensive backs catch you on the perimeter.

That approach was less successful when State signed guys like Dorsett Davis, Willie Blade and some other interior linemen.

In 1999 the sum of the parts was the best defense in the country. As a unit, it was a sight to behold.

As Leach leads Mississippi State against Kentucky on Saturday night it's unlikely his defensive coordinator, Zach Arnett, will stand up four or five guys along the line of scrimmage.

Couch was unfazed. The tall, accurate native Kentuckian would become the first pick in the NFL draft in 1999.

He threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns that day.

The Bulldogs trailed 21-10 at halftime, their lone touchdown a 94-yard kick return by Kevin Prentiss.

Things got better in the second half. The Bulldogs got their running game going, and Dunn adjusted.

The Wildcats scored just six points after halftime, and MSU won 35-27.

There were big plays by the defense including a sack and forced fumble by safety Eric Brown. Couch also threw an interception.

Dunn called that day's non-traditional front line his "Wild Thing" defense.

Like its creator, it looked untamed and a bit disheveled.

However, I think everybody wore socks.

PARRISH ALFORD is the college sports editor and columnist for the Daily Journal. Contact him at parrish.alford@journalinc.com.

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