Half way through the season, lets take a look back and a look ahead for Mississippi State.
The Good: The one thing that seems to be consistent with our offense is that we put a running back in, they play well. We have a deep stable of running backs, and because of all of the controversy surrounding the quarterback position, it has been overlooked just how well the running backs played in the first six games of the season. To add to it, Ladarrius Perkins seemed to be healthy for the first time all year in the game against Bowling Green.
Speaking of the quarterbacks, they have actually both played really well this year. It doesn’t make it easy to choose one, just ask Coach Mullen, but it is very comforting to know that we have two quarterbacks who are capable of playing quality minutes when their number is called.
Consider this, Dak Prescott has completed 63 of 116 passes, 890 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Pretty good passing numbers for his first year to see significant playing time, and the fact that he is not a throw first quarterback. Despite the backlash that Russell has received, he has completed 29 of 41 passes, 381 yards, with two touchdowns and 1 interception. He has completed 70% of his passes. We can all say what we want about how good or bad the offense is with Tyler at the helm, but he has played well when given the chance. Where they differ is in the running department. Dak has run the ball 64 times for 457 yards and 8 touchdowns. He leads the team in rushing yards, YPC and touchdowns. It’s that extra dynamic that people have fallen in love with and want to see on the field more.
Receiver play has been lacking, but the exception to that rule has been Jameon Lewis. He has 23 receptions for 393 yards, which is a 17.1 YPC average, with three touchdowns. The coaching staff has also tried to find creative ways to get the ball into the hands of one of our best playmakers, which I like.
So these are all the good things that our offense does. Despite the gloom and doom surrounding the program, there is a lot to like and build on going forward. Let’s just hope that the offensive coaching staff can figure out more ways for our players to make plays.
The Bad: The hardest thing to figure out about the offense has been the playcalling and the inability for either side of the ball to do anything once the first half is over. Most people believe that if we hadn’t gotten so conservative in the second half of the Auburn game, we would have another win and the outlook of this season would be completely different.
The quarterback controversy has been well documented by myself and just about everyone else who covers Mississippi State. I’ve said it once and I will say it again, just pick somebody. I personally believe that because of the coaching style and offensive system that we run, the best option for us going forward is Prescott. That doesn’t mean that I think we can’t win with Russell in at quarterback. If we go with Russell though, we have to stop calling the same type of plays that we use when Prescott is in the game. They are totally different players and we have to use their talents differently. We can’t run the same type of offense for both quarterbacks.
The Good: Hey, we have a pass rush this year!
It isn’t completely showing up in the sacks department, but you can tell that quarterbacks are having to make decisions quicker and are forced to get rid of the football before they would like to. A lot of it can be attributed to Denico Autry picking up where he left off at the end of the year last year, Preston Smith doing the same thing he did all of last year, and the much needed addition of Chris Jones. Jones has been especially impressive because he has spent a lot of time playing at the Defensive Tackle position which is not where he is accustomed to playing. We need to find more ways to allow the defensive line to wreak havoc on the opponents.
The Bad: Our secondary play has been lacking. If you don’t agree with that statement, go back and watch the LSU game. Some of this is to be expected. We have a young group, and we lost Hughes for the year in the Oklahoma State game, and many would argue that he and Whitley were expected to be the best defensive backs that we had this year.
Speaking of Whitley, he has been a major disappointment. He use to play so aggresively, and you could count on him making big time plays. Now, he seems to play timid. I never would have thought I would have said that about Nickoe Whitley, but there is simply no denying it. He looks lost at times, and it is obvious that the defensive coaching staff were hoping that he could help cover up some mistakes that they knew were bound to happen with such a young group at the corner position. So far, he not only hasn’t been able to cover up their mistakes, but he also has been making plenty of his own.
The Good: Yes there has been good when it comes to Special Teams. The return game has been pretty solid. as a group, we are averaging 31.1 yards per kick return, which is really good when the guys get an opportunity to bring one out. Holloway had a 05 yard return against Alcorn, and Jameon Lewis has done a nice job of giving us good field position when the kicks aren’t kicked out the bake of the end zone.
Baker Swedenburg has been a great punter and he continues to do so this year. Of his 16 punts, only 5 have had any return for a total of 51 yards. Return men almost never have a chance to make a play when he is called upon to punt. Hopefully, his services won’t be needed much for the remainder of the year.
The Bad: unfortunately, this is going to focus of Devon Bell. He is 5 of 10 on the year, and if the last offensive drive of the game against Bowling Green was any indication, Mullen has lost all confidence in his ability to make a kick. He has the leg, he just cannot get it through the uprights. I don’t know if we eventually give up and turn to someone else, but I hope he can work it out.
On a side, don’t call Bell or any of the players garbage. They’re not something that has been discarded and worthless. I hate seeing this on Twitter or on Facebook. He is still a Bulldog and he is giving his best effort, as are all the players, so please don’t refer to them as garbage. It’s one thing to say they have had their chance and we need to turn elsewhere, but the players aren’t garbage.
Games we should win
Kentucky. If we don’t beat Kentucky next Thursday, it ain’t going to be pretty.
Games we can win
Arkansas and Ole Miss. Arkansas will be tough because we have never won in Arkansas. They have a lot of holes, but so do we. I could see us winning that game, and it will probably go a long way to determining if we make it to a bowl. Many people have already penciled in a loss for Ole Miss and I just don’t understand this at all. Yes, they are a much improved team, but they aren’t heads and shoulders better than Mississippi State. To think that they are so much better than they can come to Starkville and just expect a win is asinine.
Games we can win but won’t be easy
South Carolina. The Gamecocks are about as good as they come when they play to their potential and there aren’t any controversies swirling around the team. That hasn’t always been the case this year. Which team shows up in Columbia when the Bulldogs come to town will go a long way towards determining who wins this game.
Games where everything has to break right for us to win
Alabama and Texas A&M. Alabama may not be as good as they were in previous years, but they are still the odds on favorite to win the national championship. The only team that might stop them this year will be LSU. The one thing we have going for us is the game will be played in Starkville. Can we win? Absolutely, it will just be a mountain of an obstacle for us to overcome to do so. Just no #WeBelieve hashtags this time around, okay? Texas a&M may have one of the best offenses and best dual threat quarterbacks to ever play the game. What they don’t have is a defense capable of making big time, consistent stops when they need it. That is our one sliver of hope in this game. The other? Every game that Texas A&M has lost since joining the SEC last year has been at home on Kyle Field. Granted, the opponents have been Florida, LSU, and Alabama, but it’s still something to consider.
I’m going to say 6-6 and we sneak our way into a bowl. I think the Egg Bowl will determine whether or not we go to a bowl, and with the exception of last year, Mullen has always had the team ready to play when that game rolls around. I know this is a homer pick, but it’s not unthinkable. Time will only tell.