Examining Mississippi State football’s offense against Western Michigan
MSU put together a solid day offensively, scoring 41 points and finishing with 440 yards. It was by no means a dominant performance, as you still saw some sluggishness at times. But overall, State did what they should’ve done on offense against a MAC team.
By far the biggest story of the day was QB Mike Wright’s involvement. Through the first five weeks of the season, Wright had exclusively been a package QB for the offense. He’d be brought in for a play or two here and there to provide a spark to the offense, running option concepts or keeping the ball on a designed QB carry.
Given State’s inconsistencies and, at times, total ineffectiveness offensively with Will Rogers under center, fans have clamored for Wright to see a heavier workload or even take over as the starter. The Western Michigan game provided HC Zach Arnett and OC Kevin Barbay the opportunity to get him more reps. On State’s third drive of the game, Wright came out as the QB and stayed in for the entirety of it. For the rest of the game, he and Rogers split reps fairly evenly.
As expected, the offensive approach with Mike Wright leading the way looks entirely different than with Will Rogers. Much of the run game features option looks, forcing defenses to account for Wright as the ball carrier. You saw more RPOs mixed in and fewer true dropback passes.
Much of the QB run game came via concepts we’ve seen to this point – Split Zone Bluff, Power Read, QB Sweep, and Counter Bash. But State also broke out a new rushing concept for Mike Wright.
State showed a heavy misdirection QB Counter play. At the most baseline level, it’s QB GH Counter, with the backside guard and H-back TE acting as the pullers for the QB. But there’s two elements of misdirection employed here. First is the play-side toss action to the RB. With the guard pulling and the edge defender left unblocked, this initially looks like Toss Power Read.
Toss Power Read takes the classic Power Read concept but utilizes an option pitch as opposed to a mesh point between the QB and RB (the embedded link does a deep dive into both versions of the concept). Here’s the Kansas City Chiefs running Toss Power Read with Travis Kelce as a Wildcat QB.
Sidenote: will having the name “Travis Kelce” in this blog drive up engagement given current events?
But that’s not actually the play-call here, which leads us into the second element of misdirection. You’ll notice TE Malik Ellis take three steps to his left (the backside of the play) before reversing course and acting as a lead blocker for Mike Wright. This is a Counter wrinkle growing in popularity in the sport right now. LBs often have a tendency to chase after a TE working across the formation because in many cases, that’s a signal to where the ball-carrier will end up.
This “wind-back” action can be used against LBs that aggressively flow with the TE by running them away from the actual point of attack. The Josh Heupel offense at Tennessee and previously UCF made big use of this version of Counter as a change-up.
They refer to it as “Claw” in their own terminology, and that’s how On3’s Clark Brooks charted it for his weekly SEC offensive breakdown. Here’s a look at the play drawn up on the whiteboard by Clark plus the play in action from Mississippi State.
This was a pretty unique call. I anticipate that going forward, you’ll see some more wrinkles to involve Wright as the ball-carrier, especially if he continues to see a greater workload.
The danger of Wright’s legs obviously open up opportunities in the passing game. State showed more RPO looks with Wright in, specifically those that get him out on the edge the ability to throw the ball out wide to receivers. Usually this was just with simple bubble screens, but they showed some more advanced looks too.
Here’s a RPO that’s gaining lots of popularity. It’s Split Zone Bluff with a Post-Wheel route combination by the receivers. The first part of the play is the Split Zone Bluff RPO we’ve seen several times this season. TE Antonio Harmon comes across the formation bluffing the block on the DE before running an arrow route to the flat, creating a modernized triple option look for the QB. Wright can hand off to the RB, keep it around the edge, or throw the screen out wide.
But he’s also got a fourth option on this play. Tulu Griffin is aligned in the slot with Jordan Mosley out wide. They switch release at the snap with Griffin running a wheel and Mosley running a seam route (I assume he’s got the ability to run a post here if the middle of the field is open, but with the single high safety, he stays up the seam). Mosley’s route is mostly meant to occupy the deep defenders and leave Tulu free down the sidelines.
If that happens and an underneath defender flies out to cover the arrow route, Wright will hit the wheel route. Sure enough, the CB bails with Mosley on the seam/post while the NB chases Harmon on the arrow. Griffin is wide open, and Wright hits him for a big gain. It’s a great call that’s nearly impossible to defend…especially when the refs ignore OL getting downfield on their run blocks, as is the case here. But hey, that’s RPO football. Force the refs to throw a flag they rarely do.
This was our first real taste at what the offense looks like when being run by Mike Wright. Overall, it was solid. There were still plenty of inconsistencies, particularly with Wright as a passer. But it did seem as though there was a more set philosophy to the offense with Wright whereas with Rogers they’ve struggled to finalize an identity. Rogers’ status going forward is in doubt after suffering an injury late in the game, so there’s a chance we see more of this style of offense going forward.