What went wrong for Mississippi State football’s offense against South Carolina.
Despite putting up big yardage totals overall and scoring 30, it wasn’t all pretty for Mississippi State’s offense. The Bulldog offense line once again struggled mightily. Their issues holding up in pass protection are well-documented, but what was particularly concerning was how poor they were run blocking.
Entering the game, South Carolina had the SEC’s 13th ranked rushing defense, allowing over 145 yards per game. State, meanwhile, had shown some promise with their ground game the first three weeks. You’d expect the edge to be with the Bulldogs on the ground, but the Gamecocks shut down State’s rushing attack. MSU finished with just 32 rushing yards at an abysmal 1.4 yards per carry.
Sacks, of course, factor into that, but even Woody Marks saw just 23 yards on 12 carries. South Carolina made a concerted effort to take away State’s ground game, choosing to load the box and force Rogers to beat them through the air. But beyond simply out-numbering State in the run game, the Gamecocks physically dominated their OL. State could not get push up front at all.
Here’s an attempt on 1st & 10 from the South Carolina 15 early in the second quarter with State trailing 14-7. State goes with a pistol unbalanced quads formation that’s become a go-to for the offense. Carolina is fully expecting a run here with seven defenders in the box plus a safety just on the outskirts as an extra run defender. It’s certainly not an ideal look to run into with just six blockers, but the run scheme State is going for ideally should alleviate some of that.
They run Wide Zone to the weak side. Out of the pistol, it’s unlikely that the backside edge defender would be able to crash down on the RB running away from him. Because of this, he’s intentionally left unblocked, allowing TE Ryland Goede to immediately climb to the second level and get a block on the linebacker. This lets State equate numbers in the run game. The safety is still unblocked, but assuming everyone executes, he’ll be left to make a tackle one-on-one against Woody Marks in space. You’ll take that matchup as the offense.
The problem here is that almost no one executes. Every OL either misses his block or gets driven backwards. The only one who might be right here is RG Steven Losoya, as the NT I presume he’s responsible for lags to the backside. Even if Losoya is correct to let him go and get to the second level, RT Kam Jones fails to reach the NT, who easily bursts through the line.
LT Percy Lewis fails to reach block a nickelback coming off the edge. LG Nick Jones doesn’t reach the DE. And C Cole Smith gets blown back by the DT. Add in the NT bursting through on the backside, and there is literally no where for Woody Marks to take this run. This is an absolutely horrendous rep of run blocking.
Pass protection, unsurprisingly, was no better. Will Rogers was sacked four times in this game. Carolina was aggressive in bringing pressure, knowing State’s deficiencies in pass blocking as well as Rogers’ tendency to make mistakes in those spots. Rogers managed to make the Gamecocks pay for that on several occasions, but sometimes you just don’t have time to get a throw off.
Carolina goes with what appears to be a fire zone blitz here. A fire zone is a “3 deep, 3 underneath” defense with five pass rushers. The tweak here is that they have their boundary corner locked in man coverage against WR Justin Robinson, who is the single receiver to that side. But elsewhere, you have three underneath defenders plus a safety and corner occupying deep 1/3s.
They send their WLB as the extra pass rusher off the edge, and RB Woody Marks does a good job of picking him up. RT Kam Jones also contains the DE. But while Mississippi State, handles the edge pressures, they don’t handle the interior rush. LG Nick Jones gets destroyed by DT TJ Sanders, who drives Jones all the way to back to Rogers as he attempts to step up into the pocket and hit an open Antonio Harmon outside.
Rogers is, obviously, unable to get the throw off, but he does just barely manage to evade Sanders. Unfortunately, C Cole Smith stops blocking up front, turns around to watch the action behind him, and allows DT Alex Huntley to run by him and bring down Rogers. I’m going to assume Smith thought Huntley had taken himself out of the play by running right into another pass rusher (I think Huntley wanted to loop around here but couldn’t) and was then looking for work elsewhere, but regardless, it’s a tough look.