Plenty of Miscues
Most of the game didn’t go well at all for Mississippi State football’s offense. That’s obvious when you only score seven points. And the first two plays of the game showed the type of day it was going to be for State. The first play is an option handoff to Tulu Griffin off a jet sweep.
State fans have grown sick of jet sweeps. They simply haven’t been all that effective for State this year outside of a couple touchdowns earlier in the season. Some of this, I believe, can be attributed to defenses honing-in on when and how MSU has used them. When Mike Wright is in the game, and even more specifically when he’s got a RB in a sidecar alignment next to him, a jet sweep is almost always being used as a part of an option run.
When defenses know it’s an option, they can devote a defender to each potential ball-carrier and shut things down or, at worst, limit those plays effectiveness. In these specific cases, defenses know to account for Wright on a keeper between the tackles and for the WR on the sweep. What this means is that for any DE who gets left unblocked on these plays, they can be free to crash on the QB because they trust the LBs and/or safeties to go with the sweep. Essentially, the defense can force Wright to hand the ball off to a ball-carrier that won’t have enough blockers out in front.
You can see that here. This is Jet Power Read, the same play Creed Whittemore scored a TD on in the season opener. It hasn’t been nearly as effective since. As soon as Tulu goes in motion, you see both LBs start to shift with it and the play-side safety start leaning to attack. They know what’s coming. The DE squeezes with the mesh-point to force a handoff, and Tulu runs the ball into a part of the field with only two blockers to account for three defenders. He’s quickly tackled.
If the MIKE LB stays in the box, the play works fine. He’d then simply get blocked by an OL like the play design calls for. But LBs aren’t going to sit around and let that happen. On the next drive, they run GT Counter Bash off a jet sweep with Zavion Thomas that goes for a loss. I’ll be fair that this one is stopped more because of a great play by the DE than it was all of the Hog defenders flying to the sweep (even though a safety does in fact fly down to it). But by and large, defenses know what’s coming and are prepared to stop it.
On the second play of the game, Mike Wright is intercepted, setting up the Razorbacks with a short field that led to their only points of the game.
This was a RPO. The Bulldogs are running Inside Zone with a Fade-Out combination on the backside of the play. Mike Wright sees the backside LB come into the box to fit the run as well as the boundary CB step down. He thinks he has a window to hit the fade route on a hole-shot. But with the safety widening into the short side of the field, it ends up being an easy pick.
If Wright hands the ball off, it’s likely a good gain for Woody Marks. Even with the backside LB stepping down to defend the run, there’s more than enough space for Marks to get good yardage. Now to be fair to Wright, I’m sure that as soon as he saw both those backside defenders step down, his read became “pass”. But you’ve got to be weary of the safety.
I think some of these miscues, even after the eventual scoring drive, combined with State’s effectiveness on defense led to a painfully conservative approach from about the second half onward. MSU ran the ball on every first down in the second half, and all but one of those were simple zone handoffs with various tags added in. Despite playing it safe and attempting to stay ahead of the chains, they did themselves no favors with this approach.
On the day, Mississippi State averaged just 3.2 yards per play on first down. It’s nearly impossible to sustain drives if you’re moving the ball that little on early downs. It directly correlates with why the Bulldogs were so bad on third down. Their average yards to go on third down was 8.8! No one will be successful in those spots.
My issues with this game were less related to execution, though that was lacking, and more on the gameplan. Yes, there were a few wrinkles mixed in to build an offense around Wright. But outside of the screen pass to Zavion Thomas highlighted on the previous slide, so few of the calls actually compliment each other. It felt like a collection of unrelated plays called at predictable times. Add in the unwillingness to truly try and attack Arkansas with any shots downfield and going on fourth down, and you get seven points.
I do want to close with this though, and play-calling has nothing to do with it. This is MSU’s final offensive play of the game. It’s 3rd & 3, and if they convert, they can run the clock out. State gets into 12 personnel and calls their bread-and-butter play to ice the game: Wide Zone. And somehow, on what’s ultimately the most important offensive snap of the game, your RG and RT block the wrong direction.
I don’t pretend to know every play-call or how everything is supposed to work because I certainly do not. I already acknowledged that there was a play earlier in this game where while I lean it being a mix-up by the OL, I don’t know that for sure. So I will go ahead and say that maybe, just maybe, this was some run scheme I don’t recognize, and they did what they were supposed to.
But considering that the TE to their side tries to block to his left at the snap (the direction the play is going) and that both the RG and RT quickly start working back left after they get beat inside, I feel pretty dang confident that this was a screw-up. A screw-up that allows the tackle to be made short of the line to gain. How on Earth do you allow that to happen?
Mississippi State has a lot to clean-up heading into these final five games. Between how they gameplan, the adjustments they make in-game, player’s execution, and apparently, players getting the correct play-calls, there’s plenty to get fixed. 99% of the time, seven points won’t cut it.