Jeff Lebby and the Mississippi State football program picked up an intriguing quarterback in former Baylor QB Blake Shapen. How will he fit in with MSU’s new offense?
While many were wanting Jeff Lebby and the Mississippi State football team to bring in a big time quarterback, some MSU fans found themselves a little confused when the Bulldogs landed Blake Shapen from the Baylor Bears.
Shapen, a relatively mobile QB who stands around 6-feet-tall and weighing in around 190 pounds, has thrown for 4,978 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 21 games over the past two seasons.
That’s not the most awe-inspiring sort of performance that MSU fans wanted from the transfer portal QB, but it’s what they’re getting. There’s still a chance that Mississippi State could bring in some more talent through the transfer portal, but that’s a bit of an unknown at this point.
Let’s work with what we’ve got.
One thing that Mississippi State fans need to keep in mind is that this offense does more with less. You don’t necessarily need to be a high profile quarterback to thrive in this sort of system thanks to the creativity that Lebby brings to the table.
So, someone like Shapen can still thrive here.
With the thought that Shapen might end up as the starting quarterback for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, let’s start taking a look at how Lebby can maximize Shapen a bit.
Do what makes this offense great
One thing that is interesting about Lebby’s offense is the way it spreads defenses out. And because of how Lebby is able to create space, he’s shown that he can ensure his offense runs the ball pretty well.
Like this play here at Ole Miss:
Or, back when he was designing things with the UCF Knights.
In that game, UCF was able to run for 350 yards against the Memphis Tigers. In 2018, the Knights averaged 266.1 rushing yards per game. In 2019, UCF averaged 224.8 rushing yards per game. But while those rushing yards decreased a bit when Lebby took over as the OC, there was something that UCF was better at in 2019, and it’s this:
UCF stretched the field and routinely took advantage of deep shots that opposing defenses had no answer for. And as a result, UCF went from averaging 257.5 passing yards per game in 2018 to 316.7 passing yards per game in 2019, when Lebby was the offensive coordinator.
Ole Miss, in 2020, averaged 344.9 passing yards per game and the Rebels were putting up 278.4 passing yards per game in 2021. Oklahoma, in 2022, put up 254.6 passing yards per game. In 2023, the Sooners threw for 321.8 yards per game.
With some dynamic wide receivers that can stretch the entirety of the field, the Bulldogs should have plenty of chances to run the ball right up the middle with relative ease, allowing pressure to be taken off of whoever starts at quarterback here.
And that should allow for some interesting pass plays that go for a ton of yards:
And that’s a good thing.
This is an offense that is designed to stretch the field a bit and it doesn’t necessarily need the best quarterback ever to accomplish that feat.
As we saw at Baylor:
Understand that Shapen can thrive in this system, even if you’re not having him run regularly
Look, if there are concerns about Shapen’s limited playing time or that he’s been dinged up a bit this season, it’s worth recognizing that this offense can elevate the play of guys who aren’t necessarily the quickest and most athletic runners ever.
A lot of attention gets paid to how dynamic of an athlete RG3 is and how well he thrived in this system at Baylor, but there were other successful quarterbacks there that didn’t have that sort of athleticism.
Like Bryce Petty.
As a junior in Art Briles’ offense, Petty threw for 4200 yards and 32 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He also, interestingly enough, ran for 14 touchdowns (and just 209 yards) on 2.2 yards per carry.
In his senior season, Petty threw for 3855 yards and 29 touchdowns against seven picks while running for 6 touchdowns and 101 yards.
Or take Nick Florence for example.
In 2012, Florence (an overlooked quarterback who was pretty mobile), threw for 4309 yards and 33 touchdowns with 13 picks. He also ran for 568 yards and 10 touchdowns. So, some mobility is nice, but it isn’t super necessary for this system.
But that was technically Briles system, what about Jeff Lebby’s offense?
Jeff Lebby’s quarterbacks haven’t exactly run for a ton of yards, but they are effective on the ground when needed to run
It’s pretty clear that Lebby wants a dual threat quarterback who can keep defenses on their toes thanks to the ability to do damage on the ground and through the air, but his recent quarterbacks have done the vast majority of their damage through the air.
In 2019, with Lebby, Dillon Gabriel ran for just 78 yards and four touchdowns, but he threw for 3653 yards and 29 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
On over to Ole Miss, in 2020 Matt Corral threw for 3337 yards and 29 touchdowns along with 14 interceptions in Lebby’s system. He also ran for 506 yards and four touchdowns that year. In 2021, Corral threw for 3349 yards and 20 touchdowns against five interceptions while running for 614 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Back to Gabriel, but this time at Oklahoma. In 2022, Gabriel ran for 315 yards and six touchdowns, but threw for 3168 yards and 25 touchdowns against six interceptions. In 2023, Gabriel threw for 3660 yards and 30 touchdowns against six interceptions while also running for 373 yards and 12 touchdowns.
So, first thing is first, there are a lot of rushing touchdowns to be examined there.
That said, it’s worth noting that these guys weren’t always rushing for a ton of yards or really gashing folks with their legs with regularity. Corral’s performances in 2020 and 2021 are a bit of an exception in that regard because most of Lebby’s quarterbacks haven’t run anywhere near more than 500 yards in a season.
A lot of those rushing scores? Well, situations like this allowed for them:
It doesn’t seem like you need to be the fastest quarterback ever to make that play successful. That’s a five or six yard run with a lineman helping propel the QB forward.
This offense can be operated by someone who is willing to run and has a bit above average mobility as well as a strong throwing arm. Really, unless Lebby is planning on altering the method by which his offense runs, running the quarterback doesn’t seem like it absolutely has to be a super high priority for the Bulldogs.
But, well, mobile QBs allow for Lebby to get more creative:
So, Shapen should fit in pretty well.
He’s not afraid of contact and he’s got solid arm strength.
But, still, we don’t know how the quarterback battle is going to play out. Maybe it won’t be Shapen. Maybe it will be him. Regardless, if you’re just evaluating him based off of a miserable season that Baylor had this year, you really need to understand that the raw numbers don’t tell the full story here and that Shapen is a pretty solid pick up.
And if you want to learn more on how the veer-and-shoot is supposed to work? Well, just read more from our very own Andrew Miller, who certainly understands all of this stuff a heck of a lot more than I ever could: