Download pdf version here: Mississippi State Writeup
Opponent: Miss. State Bulldogs
Kickoff: 7:00 PM
So I thought I was having a nightmare. Then I woke up and unless everyone had the same nightmare, we’re actually 1-2 on the season and 0-2 in the SEC. I did some research and apparently it wasn’t a nightmare. Crap. I’d like to go back to sleep now and wake up in the heady days when SC was a total patsy and we could exploit Arkansas’ lack of a defense. Oh well. I suppose it’s time to deal with the hand we’ve dealt ourselves. On with the season…
About the Arkansas game…
I suppose it’s a sign of the times that I actually feel better after a second straight loss than I did the week before because I actually saw some fight out of our team even though we ultimately lost the game. I’m not one for moral victories and I absolutely abhor the fact we just lost to Arkansas and Petrino but I saw some things I can get excited about and that’s certainly worth something. I need those somethings, otherwise it could be a really, really long week.
The Good: More than I would’ve thought when we were down 2 TDs in the 4th quarter. Aaron Murray showed me a lot Saturday. That kid can throw a better, more catchable deep ball than any QB I can remember. He still has some pocket management issues but he’s still learning. Tavares King looks like a guy who is ready to be a go-to receiver and Durham showed he’s already that guy. Add back Green and safeties are going to be hesitant to load the box. Also, the defense deserves some credit for bowing their backs and stopping Arkansas on multiple 4th quarter drives to not only allow the offense to bring us back from 2 TDs down in the 4th quarter but to also force yet another punt after we tied it up. They did everything they were asked to do right up until that last Mallett drive.
The Bad: Washaun Ealey nearly got Murray killed on multiple occasions in one of the worst pass-blocking efforts I can recall. The playcalling was highly suspect. Why do we not move the pocket some? Why do we insist on running every QB drop through playaction (more on that later)? Why do we seemingly not provide Murray with some underneath safe-routes? Our OL play wasn’t very good at all, again. We can’t get pressure on defense consistently, something I thought we were going to be very successful with.
The Interesting: We finally added the Logan Gray Wild-dawg wrinkle that might actually make a defense think we could pass out of it. We added a few little turns this week that made me see some hope for our use of that scheme. I’m assuming Wooten was taking over the Branden Smith role in his absence. If we can get something out of that package to generate a spark I’ll be thrilled and Saturday I finally saw a glimmer of hope. What’s up with our play-action? If we’re under center, we’re going to be running play action. Saturday we had 24 pass plays called under center. Of those, 21 were play action and the other three were 3-step drops. In shotgun though, of our 14 attempted passing plays, only 1 used play-action. Interesting. With a young QB on a 5 or 7-step drop, I’d like to occasionally give him the opportunity to see the field during his drop rather than forcing him to use up the first second or more with his back to the line. This is particularly ineffective in 3rd and longs where no one in the stadium thinks we are going to run…at all.
- The MSU offense is directed by Dan Mullen, who formerly held the position of offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Florida. The offense looks a lot like the one he ran at Florida, only with Mississippi State level talent, so, essentially not nearly as effective. There’s a lot of misdirection in the running game and getting multiple players involved, but they’ve really struggled getting any consistency through the air and thus the high-flying offense they showed in their week 1 trouncing of Memphis has been grounded to the tune of 21 points over their last two outings (Auburn and LSU).
- At QB, two different guys are seeing snaps for them. Jr. Chris Relf is a load at 6-4, 240 and is a capable runner but looks out of sorts in the passing game, something that is a decided hindrance for a QB. He’s completing over 55% of his passes on the season but has only thrown 1 TD and 3 INTs on the year. Freshman Tyler Russell is another big kid at 6-5, 225 but he’s struggled since his 4 TD opener against Memphis, throwing 0 TDs and 4 INTs (3 last week at LSU) in their 2 game SEC run to date.
- They spread it around at the TB spot a good bit. Outside of Relf, MSU sports 3 RBs with over 20 carries on the season, with all 3 averaging between 3.8 and 4.4 ypc. None has really done anything to distinguish himself yet, just know that a lot of folks get touches, including scrappy FB Patrick Hanrahan.
- Shifty sophomore Chad Bumphis gets the bulk of the publicity after a breakout freshman season last year. At 5-10, he’s not the biggest WR we’ll face by a long shot but he’s a great athlete and dangerous in space, a la Joe Adams last weekend. Of the 6 WRs they have on their 2-deep, only Leon Berry is an upperclassman. Only 1 of their top 6 stands over 6-0, Chris Smith, and he’s averaging only a catch per game. TE is a marginal role in their offense, as it was with Meyer when he first came to Gainesville where at Utah he famously didn’t have a TE on his roster.
- The MSU OL depth chart looks faked because everyone on their entire 2-deep is listed at 300 or 305. A little too convenient. Senior LT Derek Sherrod is the best of the bunch by far.
- Bottom Line: This is a team that defenses load up against. Without a true passing threat they face loaded fronts and try and deal with it. Russell got more snaps at LSU last week after a Relf injury and it kinda blew up on them as he threw 3 INTs. If they can develop any kind of downfield threat to open up the running game (sound familiar?) then their offense gets a lot scarier but to date they haven’t been able to do so in SEC play. Relf is a threat on broken plays with his scrambling ability which is something we struggle with but I expect us to bring a lot of run blitzes this week to help out our NG spot, hopefully clogging his scrambling lanes.
- Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: I keep waiting for that big breakout game from our OLBs, where Houston and Gamble just start disrupting stuff but to date I haven’t seen it yet. Houston had times where he was disruptive against SC but was largely absent last week. With the way MSU moves the ball around a good bit on the ground, our OLBs will have every chance to make plays on the ground, but the Grantham scheme promised considerable pressure on passing plays and I want to see it.
- MSU’s defense is headed by Manny Diaz, a name that popped up some as a potential DC candidate in Athens last year. A young, up and coming name in the coaching ranks, Diaz has put together a gritty bunch that has kept them in games and gets stingy in the redzone, holding LSU to 5 FGs last week (4 in the first half on the way to a 12-0 halftime score). Despite not getting much help from their offense, this unit has kept MSU in all of their games. They are particularly good against the pass, giving up under 150 to Auburn and under 100 to LSU.
- The MSU DL is pretty stout. DE Pernell McPhee has the most pro potential, and at 285, he’s a load on the edge but he can get after the QB. The former JUCO had 5 sacks last year. They’ve got some beef inside, with JUCO James Carmon a complete mountain at 6-7, 345.
- MSU starts 3 seniors across the LB corps. Two of them weigh 245 or more. The most distinguished player is 6-4, 250-pound OLB K.J. Wright.
- The only upperclassman starter in the secondary is SS Charles Mitchell, who Steele had as a 3rd team All-SEC guy. A pair of sophomore CBs emerged ahead of their more experienced backups. The secondary held LSU to 97 yards passing last weekend, but after watching LSU play UNC, I’m not sure that requires a whole lot.
- Bottom Line: We vacillated between being really good on offense and really bad last week. We need consistency. Murray doesn’t appear to be the root of the problems. We’ve still got a ton of weapons and I’d like to see us use them. We were forced to in the 4th quarter, down 2 TDs and the results were good. I want to see that sense of urgency in the 1st quarter. Go out there, make plays, and win a ballgame. MSU plays tough D in Starkville, but no tougher than the one we saw in Columbia. OK, bad example. I think the game hinges on Murray because for whatever reason we can’t seem to get in any rhythm in our ground attack. Hopefully having Caleb and Washaun together for the first time all season will smooth that over. It’s going to be tough to ask Murray to work magic against a pretty stingy pass defense but he’s shown that he’s not a moron back there, which is nice.
- Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Blitz pickup. Murray got sacked 6 times last week and was running for his life several others. There were several coverage sacks in there but plenty were immediate busts too. If MSU brings pressure, we’ve got to be willing to throw it and further open the offense. For that to work, our OL needs to play better and our RBs certainly do too.
The MSU Game Overall
Normally this would be considered a trap game. Trap games don’t exist for 1-2 teams. We can’t afford to overlook anyone. We have to get it back on track. Look, there’s no shame in losing to 2 teams currently ranked in the top 12. There may be some shame in losing to them after this week as they could both get completely shellacked by teams from Alabama. Anyway, when you go 0-2 in the conference you have to readjust your parameters for success and at this point, we enter a more winnable portion of our schedule where we could easily rattle off a 4 or 5-game winning streak. A young team like ours (in the sense of learning new stuff) could really benefit from getting on a roll and getting some confidence.
It’s going to be noisy, supposedly Mississippi State is calling for a blackout (is that irony, I never can tell), we’ve got our backs under the wall, everyone has written us off…I’m excited. I can go back to being excited about watching this team. I’m going to take each game for what it is, a growing experience, and try to find as many positives as I can. Looking back, it was a bit unfair for me to expect the world out of a redshirt freshman at QB (granted I think the coaches shorted him a good bit) and a defense still trying to figure out a completely new scheme. As this team continues to grow and get key players back, they have a chance of being pretty darn good and causing some noise. Sure, maybe the East title is lost, but we still get a shot at UF, UT, GT, AU, etc. and it starts this weekend in Starkville. I’m surrendering none of those. A win here against an improved MSU team with a stout defense and you build some momentum, something we sorely need.
- Caleb King needs to get back on the field this week before Murray gets decapitated.
- Dowtin was sorely missed last week. In his absence Dent and Robinson had to go the whole way. We need him back in a bad way.
- Geathers made an impact in the short time he was in. I have no idea why he doesn’t get more snaps at least in certain situations.
- We need to get Wooten involved more in the passing game. Screens, passes to the flat, something to get it in his hands in space.
- Chapas’ absence filtered through the backfield as without him, Munzenmaier couldn’t take over the short yardage running plays at TB with King out.
- We went from completely healthy to banged up in a hurry.
- Remember when Orson Charles caught passes last year? That was awesome.
- Getting back Branden Smith is big for punt return and CB depth, but I think he might have more impact in his limited offensive role. We haven’t seen it a whole lot but there’s a reason coaches want to get that kid touches on offense.
- Speaking of punt returns, Logan Gray really showed his athleticism and guts on his few opportunities to return one (finally). Good for him, he’s one you really root for.
- Losing Bean Anderson for the year is frustrating, but I can’t imagine how tough it is for him. That kid has had a tough career.
- I love that Ben Jones handed his captainship to Josh Davis (who will be playing in his home state). That’s the kind of leadership move that you hope gives the team a spark. With that said, I hope Searles gets all up in Ben’s ear about snapping the ball when a defensive guy comes across the line. We missed that opportunity 3 or 4 times Saturday.
- As poor a game as our team had Saturday, our fans were worse. If you were there in the 4th quarter you know what I’m talking about. Look, I know it was hot, but the upper deck on the north stands was about half full (not the Tech deck, the 300 level) for our entire 4th quarter comeback. It was an embarrassment. Fans like to talk about how players these days act so entitled. So do fans. Was I happy sitting there down 2 TDs at home in the 4th quarter? Heck no. But I was going to stay to support them on the off chance they remembered how to be good again. They did and a lot of folks missed it.
- How did the announcers point out a hold that went uncalled by Orson Charles but completely ignored the blatant hold by Arkansas on Gamble that sprung Joe Adams on his long screen pass scamper? Arkansas got away with a lot of jersey grabbing Saturday. I saw Houston getting yanked around several times.
- Something happened over the last 9 months because our video screen now looks incredibly dated, and not in a cool vintage, retro way. It looks like when you go in that room in your house that still has an old CRT TV (kids, those are the ones that weigh about 5 times more than it looks like they possibly could, roughly the size and weight of a safe) and you stare at the picture and try and figure out why you haven’t upgraded it yet because you have no interest in watching it the picture is so bad. That’s our video screen for me right now. The audio isn’t much better. It sounds like someone has cranked the music up way too loud and blown them a bit. Oh wait, that actually happened.
- When did the post-game call-in show become an infomercial? They field a call about every 20 minutes. The remainder of the time is spent on extolling the virtues of the infamous Hotel Indigo. I think Dantzler gets paid per mention. Granted, the calls aren’t exactly the cream of the crop but still, it’s football talk with a hall of famer.
- Auburn-Clemson was an entertaining football game and Clemson’s QB is a warrior. Auburn is a weird team. As good as Lattimore looked at SC, I think Dwyer at Auburn might be better. His feet are incredibly quick for a guy that big. He just looks explosive…and already full grown. That should be a good game to watch this weekend and since it’s before the UGA game I know my taste for college football will not have been ruined yet.
- Anyone interested in trying their hand at adventure racing should look into the one in Macon the day of the Colorado game. Starts at 9 AM and is over by 3, so it’s short (6 hour) and fun. Biking, trekking, paddling. www.u-roar.org.
- College football is a fun pastime, right? Then why do I feel like someone drug me through a meat grinder each of the last two weekends? I look forward to this all offseason? Oh well, it’s already a quarter of the way through.
- Has there ever been a whinier college football player than Ryan Mallett? He’s constantly trying to talk refs into calls. He tried multiple times to get us flagged for late hits, one of which his knee had yet to hit and he was still fighting for yards. The other he collapsed like he’d been shot by a sniper after Gamble nudged him. Weak. Roll all of that up and add in that punk accent he’s got and you’ve got the recipe for a truly hated football player. If anyone truly hated Arkansas. They just aren’t really on anyone’s rivals list that I can think of. Maybe Texas, but they’re way down that list too, behind TA&M, OU, Nebraska and at this point Texas Tech.
- I forgot to thank VT for actually taking one for the team 2 weeks ago by losing to James Madison, a FCS team. That loss gave a pretty sound beating to Boise State’s MNC hopes. Look, I know UGA is out of the national title running but if a Boise State gets in playing that schedule then college football as we know it will be handed off to the upper level mid-majors. I’m sorry, I have no interest in having Boise State-Nevada on a Wednesday shoved down my throat by an adoring ESPN as the game of the millennium.
- Does Dan Mullen remind anyone else of that guy from Mad About You?
Have a safe weekend,