What went right for Mississippi State football’s offense against Alabama?
Going into the game, I had my doubts that Mississippi State would find any success on the ground against the Tide. Alabama’s run defense had been stellar through the first four weeks of the season, and State’s efforts to become more of a run-first offense haven’t yet yielded consistently positive results.
A South Carolina rush defense that has been abysmal in their other games against FBS competition held State to 32 yards on 1.39 yards per carry. Now the Gamecocks made an effort to sellout and stop the Bulldog run game, but even still, if they had that much success stopping State on the ground, I assumed Alabama would have a cakewalk doing so.
But to my surprise, Mississippi State was actually quite effective running the ball on Saturday. They put up 154 yards at 4.4 a carry. That’s perfectly respectable against a team whose previous high yards per rush allowed was 3.72.
MSU did most of their damage off their foundational Wide Zone scheme, and they broke off several strong runs of their usual variations of the concept. But there was a new variation of Wide Zone they showed on a few occasions that I found interesting. State utilizes a fold-block between the play-side guard and center. The guard gets a down-block on the nose while the center folds around to more quickly get a block on the play-side LB.
They keep the backside tackle locked on the edge defender and instead leave the backside LB unblocked. While they didn’t exclusively do this throughout the game, I imagine this adjustment was there to account for the threat of Bama’s edge rushers running down the ball-carrier from the backside. To occupy the unblocked LB, Will Rogers reads him and has the option to keep the ball up the B-gap if he immediately chases the RB. The zone-read action makes the LB hesitate, and Rogers gives the ball to Woody Marks for a solid gain.
Speaking of Rogers, he got himself more involved in the run game than we’re used to. State’s first scoring drive of the game was kept alive by Rogers on a 3rd & 11 QB keeper. Kevin Barbay calls for a QB Draw Swing Screen RPO. To the field side of the formation, MSU has three receivers in a bunch set. Before the snap, they put the RB in motion towards the bunch. They’re setting up a swing screen to the back.
But as this is an RPO, Rogers has a defender to read. In this case, he’s keying off the MLB. If the MLB stays in the box, Rogers will throw the screen. If he follows the RB in motion, he’ll keep the ball on a QB Draw. Alabama is in Cover 5 or “2 Man”. It’s man coverage with two high safeties responsible for deep halves of the field.
This creates an ideal look for the QB Draw. Man coverage means the MLB is going to follow the RB on the screen, and with two high safeties, there’s a ton of open space underneath to run the ball. As soon as Rogers sees the MLB follow the RB, he knows he’s keeping it. He gives a brief glance to the screen before running up field. C Cole Smith gets out in front and is able to get a block on a safety that tries to come down and make the stop. First down.
If Will Rogers found opportunities in the run game, then you know Mike Wright did. Though they never gave him a full series like many fans have clamored for, Wright was regularly mixed into the game to throw option looks at the defense. MSU’s first touchdown of the game was scored on a Wright keeper.
They call for Split Zone Bluff Read. Standard stuff here. The edge defender crashes down hard, Wright pulls the ball with TE Malik Ellis out in front as a lead blocker, and he strolls in for six to get State back into the game. Simple but highly effective.