Dec 31, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen looks on during a timeout against the against the Georgia Tech Bulldogs in the fourth quarter in the 2014 Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets won 49-34. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
I have never been a big fan of to do lists. My wife swears by them, but I have never been able to get into the spirit of making lists for what I need to get done in a day. I do believe when you have a lot that needs to get done, then they can come in handy. If you’re Mississippi State and Dan Mullen, there’s a lot to do this offseason, so this would be a good time to make a list of all that needs to be done. This list is in no particular order.
Find a Defensive Coordinator
This is the most important item on the list obviously. We haven’t had a defensive coordinator the past two games, and it has shown. I know what you’re thinking, Collins was still on staff for the Egg Bowl. Technically that’s true. But just knowing how these things work, Geoff Collins knew he wasn’t going to be the Defensive Coordinator for Mississippi State after the 2014 season was over. Geoff Collins was a good defensive coordinator, but Dan Mullen and Scott Stricklin took a major step forward and gave him a significant pay raise. The pressure was on Collins to produce one of the best defenses in the SEC this season, and the defense as a whole took a step back. The bashing of the defense wasn’t as deserved as most thought it was, but the unit wasn’t as good as they were in 2013. I have no doubt in my mind that Collins and his agent were putting feelers out to other schools to see where there would be interest. And those feelers weren’t put out after the Egg Bowl. The lack of preparation for both the Egg and Orange Bowls shows that their was no leadership from the defensive coaches, and when the mastermind of a defense like the one Collins runs isn’t there, it’s going to be a problem. While we like to think the players are the most important part of a team, the coaching staff that leads them are just as important. The defense missed their leader the past two games and it was on display.
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Deshea Townsend and Tony Hughes have to learn how to develop players
Townsend and Hughes bring significant cred to recruiting, but the biggest weakness on the team this season was the secondary. Townsend can grab any players’ attention when he walks in to their living room with a Super Bowl Ring, and Hughes is a native Mississippian that Dan Mullen will always have with him when he walks into a player’s home. While they can recruit and bring better talent to Starkville, the coaches are going to have to develop the players they have now. There is some quality talent coming to the Bulldogs in 2015, but the players that are currently on the roster are going to carry the bulk of the load for the next year or two, and those players have to get better.
Convince Dak to Stay
Dak Prescott has received his draft grade from the NFL, but we don’t yet know what he plans to do. If I had to guess, I’d bet the grade is at best a 2nd round grade (though unlikely) and at worst a 5th round grade (also unlikely). It’s most likely a 3rd or 4th round grade. Dak Prescott displayed the passing chops to succeed in the NFL in the Orange Bowl, but he also needs to show that he can do that more consistently. Running quarterbacks can have a lot of success in the NFL, but they have to eventually learn how to pass in the pocket. If they don’t, their shelf life is about the same as a running back. If Dak can show that he is comfortable throwing the ball consistently in the pocket like he did in the Orange Bowl in 2015, then he will be an easy first round choice in the 2016 draft. If he decides to leave now, I’m afraid he will be a career backup.
Commit to starting the best running back
With the unexpected departure of Josh Robinson to the draft, Mississippi State now has to find an adequate replacement. Dan Mullen can not afford to make the same mistake that he did in 2013 at the running back position. Throughout the course of the 2013 season, it was apparent to all who watched that Josh Robinson was the best option at running back for the Bulldogs. Despite the evidence, Mullen continued to use Ladarrius Perkins as the primary back for the offense. Mullen is a loyal guy, and wanted to stick with the senior that had worked so hard throughout the course of his career. It also might have cost us a game or two in the process.
Shumpert will be the leader entering Spring Practice, and he has shown that he could be just as effective as the feature back in the glimpses we have seen of him. But we also have one of the most talented running backs from the 2014 recruiting class in Aeris Williams who will be a redshirt freshman next season. If Williams ends up being the better player, we have to make a commitment to go to him.
Find ways to exploit the mismatch we have in Bear Wilson
De’Runnya Wilson is a special talent. When Mississippi State decided to make the commitment to throw the ball in his direction, there were very few players who could adequately cover him. If the coaching staff figures out the best way to use one of the better offensive weapons they have ever had since Mullen took over, Wilson will be entering his final season as a Bulldog in 2015.
Get the offensive line to mesh
Mississippi State has two players returning from the 2014 offensive line in Justin Malone and Justin Senior. Marinas Rankin was the top rated JUCO lineman in this class and he has to come in and start immediately. That means find two more guys that can play and get them to mesh together in the spring. Dak will have a chance to have an amazing year in 2015, but if he doesn’t have protection from his offensive line, then he won’t have a chance.