Last year MSU’s offensive line was really good with J.C. Brignone and eventual 1st round draft pick Derek Sherrod. State was able to pound the ball, even sometimes when the opponent loaded the box. And when we couldn’t run because there was 8-9 in the box, Relf could throw because they were focused on the run, we had a lot of one on one coverage, and he had good pockets to throw because of that solid line.
This year, MSU lost those two great lineman from last year and then there have been injuries, Tobias Smith hurting the most. We can no longer run to set up the pass and Relf can’t handle that. The playcalling (especially in contrast to how Russell was handled vs. UAB) suggest he cannot effectively throw the ball downfield. It’s not because Relf has no ability or cannot throw an accurate pass, it’s because he has no internal clock in the pocket and holds onto the ball until he is sacked. It doesn’t do you much good to have a mobile quarterback if he isn’t going to move outside the pocket when no one is open or run for positive yards. The receivers do not seem to be getting open as much as last year which could be contributed to a new coach at that position, but Relf also will not throw the ball unless the receiver is wide open, but in the SEC one step on a defender is open…you can’t wait until he has three or four steps.
Not only are teams stopping the run, but they are doing it without loading the box. This allows their safeties to stay back in coverage, making it harder for the wide receivers to get open. Hudspeth has been missed, not only because we are having a hard time getting open, but our outside blocking is mediocre at best. Cornerback blitzes burn us almost every time as we don’t pick up the safety well in run block situations. And something is wrong Relf’s mental fortitude. I think his drop off had been exaggerated a bit because of the above factors but he doesn’t seem confident and can’t make easy throws. He shouldn’t have just a 60% completion percentage because he hardly ever throws it 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Because of our weak offensive line right now we need to throw to set up the run instead of run to set up the throw as we have the previous…well, forever. Relf can’t do it right now. I’m not sure Russell can against an SEC team, but I think he’s our best chance to win at this point. Throw it accurately and keep the linebackers from pinning their ears back and hopefully he’ll have time to throw. If the defesnse has to keep 5, 6 guys in coverage then the O line will be able to open up plenty of running lanes. That will keep Ballard from dancing around and he can hit the hole harder.
South Carolina has the most talented defensive line in country. If Relf can’t get it out of his hand in enough time against UAB, he for sure isn’t going to do it against USC. And when we get to the red zone, develop an option package for Relf, especially at the goal line when it’s harder to throw. But Russell has to start this particular game. Maybe not Kentucky, UT-Martin or any of the rest. But right now, against the Gamecocks, Russell needs to take the 1st team snaps in practice, and prepare to play the entire game for our best chance to win.