Mississippi State football vs Arizona Wildcats: the Bad on Defense
Despite a four-interception performance, pass defense was less than stellar for Mississippi State. When Jayden de Laura wasn’t forcing balls into coverage, he was able to play pitch-and-catch for lots of easy completions. State tends to play off-coverage fairly frequently, and Arizona was able to take advantage attacking the flats.
On several occasions de Laura was able to move the chains by either hitting quick completions to the outside against a dropping corner or by checking it down to his RB in the flat with lots of open space around him. State tried to avoid getting beat over the top, and they were successful in this (besides one glaring mishap). But what it meant was tons of open space underneath.
Here’s an example where on a 2nd & 8, de Laura gets to his checkdown to the RB with nothing but space in front of him for the conversion. State is in a version of Quarters coverage or Cover 4 with Dog safety Shawn Preston stepping down to essentially act like a linebacker in the middle of the field. Arizona runs Y-Cross (well that’s a familiar play), and while State easily accounts for the first four routes in the progression, the swing route from the RB is wide open.
Zona’s RBs had 11 catches for 82 yards. It’s certainly better than getting shredded down field, but it fit right into how Arizona tends to move the ball offensively. De Laura’s mistakes come when he’s under pressure. With a clean pocket, he’s pretty mechanical.
Speaking of de Laura, he made MSU pay with his legs. The Bulldogs were strong against the run overall, and you didn’t see Arizona call much by way of designed runs for de Laura. But what he did do was scramble for big yardage when he got under pressure. He was the Wildcats’ leading rusher with 44 yards on eight carries, almost all of those being scrambles.
You can see how slippery he is on this 2nd & 14. You get twists on both sides of the line from MSU’s pass rushers, with Jaden Crumedy being the first to apply pressure. De Laura begins his dance, and it looks like either Nathan Pickering or Deonte Anderson will corral him. But he makes a nifty move to slide behind one of his lineman and avoid being sacked. There’s no one occupying the short middle of the field, and he’s able to gain 13 yards to set up a 3rd & 1.
To some extent, you almost have to throw your hands up and say “what can we even do here?” Because a lot of this is just a talented athlete making a play right when the downfield coverage allowed for an open running lane down the middle. But on the other hand, containing mobile QBs has been a regular issue for State within this defense. And with LSU’s Jayden Daniels next up, that’s worrisome.
There were also several situations in which de Laura simply had too much time in the pocket. State was able to generate some pressure, as was the case in the previous clip. But for the most part, when State didn’t blitz, de Laura was able to find opportunities in the passing game.
With 23 seconds left in the first half, you see the inability to get home with four come back to bite MSU. De Laura has an eternity in the pocket to get this throw off downfield. Add in the fact that despite being in a situation where as a defense you must not allow a receiver to get behind you, that’s exactly what happens. Arizona gets a vital score right before the half.
This is simply a play that cannot happen on defense. From a pass-rush standpoint, you understand that sometimes the OL is going to win. But even if the OL wins, the QB shouldn’t have five seconds in the pocket without being disrupted. You have to impact that throw. And from a coverage standpoint, the #1 priority here is don’t get beat deep. We don’t have an camera angle to see exactly why the breakdown happens, but it did.