What went right for Mississippi State football’s offense against South Carolina?
It did not take long for OC Kevin Barbay to show that his gameplan for the offense was to attack South Carolina through the air, particularly with deep passes to slot WR Tulu Griffin. South Carolina was aggressive in defending the run. They regularly played with a extra defenders in the box to stop the run, and their safeties were quick to react to run action.
Given that MSU’s philosophy to this point on offense has been much more run heavy and with Will Rogers struggling so much through the air against LSU, they clearly went into this game with a mindset of taking away the run game and forcing Rogers to beat them over the top.
That’s exactly what Will did.
On State’s first third down of the game, Rogers hit Griffin on a slot fade against man coverage for a 39-yard game. The Bulldogs ended up punting, but it was a sign of things to come.
On their third possession of the game, down 14-0 early in the second quarter, Rogers connected with Griffin on another shot play, this one going 65 yards for a touchdown. State aligns in a pistol set with an H-back TE. It’s 2nd & 10 after an incompletion on first down. The formation and situation has South Carolina expecting State to run the ball.
Because of this, the strong safety is playing closer to the line of scrimmage at about eight yards. He tries to communicate something to the nickelback, causing both to miss the snap. When the strong safety realizes the ball’s been snapped and sees run action in the backfield, he bites hard to play the run. With the nickelback also late to react and playing outside leverage on Tulu Griffin, Tulu is able to easily win inside with the post route.
The strong safety put himself out of position to help with deep coverage over the middle by biting on the run fake, and the free safety has to pick up the boundary receiver on an out route with the boundary corner running what looks like a delayed blitz. Tulu is wide open, and Rogers hits him in stride for the touchdown. Griffin hauled in seven receptions for a Mississippi State record 256 yards.
Beyond connecting on deep shots with Tulu Griffin, Will Rogers looked in great command of the offense as a passer. He was decisive, accurate, and simply looked confident in the pocket, all factors that were missing last week against LSU.
An issue for Will has been not handling pressure well. He has a tendency to force throws that aren’t there when the pass rush bears down on him. Here’s a good example of him not allowing that to happen on a critical drive right before the end of the first half.
It’s 2nd & 10, and there’s 24 seconds left in the game with State trailing 20-14. South Carolina is going to send a Cover 1 blitz here.
State goes with the Drive concept. Drive is a staple of the West Coast offense and functions very similarly to the Shallow Cross concept State ran in the Air Raid. Both concepts feature a shallow drag route beneath a dig route and will typically have a RB check-releasing to the space vacated by the shallow receiver as a check-down option. The difference between Drive and Shallow is that on Drive, the shallow and dig routes will come from the same side of the formation. On Shallow, those routes come from opposite sides.
Zavion Thomas has the shallow route and is aligned just outside TE Antonio Harmon, who has the dig. Against man coverage, the tight alignment between the two helps to create a natural pick on the defender over Thomas. Harmon’s vertical push impedes the CB from staying with Thomas, who runs free on the shallow over the middle.
Will Rogers faces immediate pressure off the right edge, and the Gamecocks get good push along the interior too. But rather than panic, Rogers simply evades the pressure off the edge and finds just enough of a pocket to step up into and deliver a strike to an open Zavion Thomas, who turns up-field for the first down.
That first down stops the clock and gives State an opportunity to move into field goal range and add three points before the half. If Rogers gets sacked there, State doesn’t get points on the drive. Even if he throws an incompletion, it’s unlikely enough time remains to reach realistic field goal range. It’s a big play from Will that leads to points for MSU.