Embarrassing. Disgusting. Pathetic. Aggravating. Pick any adjective of your choice and it will perfectly describe Saturday’s game against South Alabama. I’m warning you now: The following article isn’t going to be a happy one. And it is definitely going to contain some very frank discussion regarding Dan Mullen. With that in mind, let’s jump right into the evaluation:
1. As we all saw, the defense struggled Saturday. The only unit I thought played reasonably well was the DL. And they weren’t as dominant as I thought they should’ve been.
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2. Pass D was horrible. Our CBs got burned alive. But what’s really concerning is how poor our safety play was. That was supposed to be a strength for this D. It was a liability Saturday.
3. Another unit that was supposed to be a real strength, LB, was shaky all day.
4. Ever ask yourself why we change DCs every 1-2 years but the D always looks the same? Another year of being sold we’d see an aggressive, pressing D was exposed as another load of bull. We continued to play a soft, bend but don’t break style of D that predictably broke.
5. After hearing how Coaches Buckley & Sirmon love their CBs to press WRs, we continued to see our guys giving an 8+ yard cushion all day.
6. I did think Lashard Durr had a solid day at CB. He was physical and usually close to his man.
7. Leo Lewis and AJ Jefferson were bright spots defensively. Lewis was aggressive and physical, especially at the point of attack. And he brought the lumber when he got to the ball carrier.
Jefferson continued to show why he’s arguably our best D-Lineman at the moment. He had several big tackles for loss, including a couple of sacks.
8. Tackling continued to be terrible. We missed way too many of them. The biggest was Traver Jung whiffing the Jag RB that would’ve resulted in a safety. Does anyone at any level teach fundamental, sound tackling technique anymore?
1. Special teams had a poor day on the whole. A blocked punt and two missed FGs is not good.
2. Westin Graves missing the game winner was almost comical. It was like the ultimate MSU moment to see the ball doink off the upright on a chipshot. I feel bad for the kid. Frankly, he should’ve never been in that position because the game shouldn’t have been close.
3. Logan Cooke was a bright spot on kickoffs. He boomed everything deep and prevented any returns. His first punt was really good, too.
4. Gotta give credit to the punt coverage guys for pinning USA at the 1. Too bad our D let them down afterwards.
Sep 3, 2016; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs running back Brandon Holloway (10) dives into the end zone during the second quarter of the game against the South Alabama Jaguars at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
1. Offense was a disaster. The gameplan was hot garbage, but I’ll discuss that in-depth in a little bit.
2. We have SIX RBs on the roster. And of the 6, Brandon Holloway led the way with 11 carries. No other RB had more than 3 carries. Donald Lee, Nick Gibson, and Alec Murphy never even played. Why not give them a chance and see what we have?
3. While I’m on running backs, they were totally mismanaged. I basically just said that in #2, but I wanted to say it plainly here. Why does Aeris Williams get the ball twice early, have good looking runs, then not touch the ball again all day? Why does Shumpert continue to out-touch every RB not named Holloway?
4. I’m a fan of Brandon Holloway. I’ve gone on the record as saying he has a valuable role to play on this team. But carrying it 11 times a game, most of those between the tackles, isn’t that role. It’s a complete and total misuse of his skills. He should average about 5 rushes a game, most of those to the outside. And he should be catching 3-5 passes a game. That’s his sweet spot for maximum productivity.
5. Fred Ross was virtually non-existent Saturday. He had the big 46 yard run, but that was about it. He caught six passes for just 34 yards. Certainly not the explosive numbers we’re used to seeing from Ross.
6. WR play in general was lackluster. Run blocking was a huge problem for them. The lack of size, particularly outside, was really exposed. But the biggest concern I saw was the lack of separation they got. They were going against Sun Belt DBs, it should be pointed out, not SEC DBs. It certainly isn’t getting easier for them to create space.
7. OL play was exceedingly poor. They were going against a Sun Belt DL that was missing 3 starters. They outweighed them by a large margin. And yet the holes for the RBs was almost non-existent. They couldn’t impose their will against Sun Belt backup linemen. Let that sink in for a moment and understand the implications. If the OL couldn’t dominate that group, is there another group on the schedule, particularly the conference schedule, we should expect them to perform well against?
8. I will give the OL credit for their pass blocking. For the most part it was solid. They gave up a couple of sacks, but the Dawg QBs had plenty of time in the pocket most of the day.
9. The QBs were completely mishandled and performed poorly. After drawing the start, Nick Fitzgerald got just 6 plays on two possessions. I’m assuming it was always the plan to insert Damian Williams on the third possession, and I didn’t really have a problem with that. But failing to get Fitz back in the game, especially when Williams was struggling in the second half, is inexcusable. And what about Tiano? Seems like USA might been a good opportunity to get a look at him, too.
10. Damian Williams is who we thought he is – a really good backup QB who’s limited athletically. Forget the completion numbers. D-Will gave us almost no chance to win. Yeah, he finished the game 20-28. But he only had 143 yards and averaged a microscopic 5.1 Yards Per Attempt.
That means we had NO deep threat when he was in the game. Everything was within 5-10 yards of the line of scrimmage. USA just loaded the box and dared us to throw it deep. The 2-3 times we did try to throw it deep, he didn’t even put it in the same zip code as his WRs.
But perhaps the most disconcerting thing about D-Will’s performance was his lack of knowledge of the playbook. He had several attempts that were nowhere near a WR. He was throwing one route and the WR was running another. That occasionally happens, but usually not more than a handful of times in a season. Maybe twice a game, tops. It happened to D-Will several times yesterday. That begs the question: Has D-Will even bothered to study the playbook or is our offense so complicated that a 4th year QB still struggles to understand it? Either way, the answer to the question isn’t good.
1. There was a lack of leadership on both sides of the ball Saturday. That has to change immediately. Guys like Richie Brown, AJ Jefferson, Fred Ross, and Jamaal Clayborn have to grab the bull by the horns.
2. The offensive game plan was atrocious. We’re breaking in a new QB and facing a Sun Belt team with a depleted DL group. That screams “run the football”, right? Not to Dan Mullen. He came out with essentially an air raid game plan scripted for Fitz. Five of the Fitz’s plays were called passes. It looks like four on the stat sheet because he scrambled on one.
Once D-Will enters the game in the first quarter, the play calling changes. We started trying to actually run the ball. And surprise, D-Will looked pretty good. But then we went back away from committing to the run. At one point late in the game, we had run 44 total plays – 22 runs, 22 passes. We finished the game with 65 total plays – 34 runs, 31 passes. That’s not nearly the run/pass split you want breaking in a new QB. And some of those runs were scrambles, so the disparity is even larger than it looks.
Where were the 2-back sets? Why didn’t we pound USA to death with Williams, D-Lee, Gibson and/or Murphy? We should’ve gone to the “Relf-fense” with Fitz & the big RBs and run the ball 45+ times against that team and worn them down. Instead, Mullen tried to show how “balanced” we can be.
3. We have become a soft, finesse football team, especially on offense. I don’t know WHY it happened, but I do know When. It was sometime during the 2015 offseason. The decision was made it was time for our offense to be “balanced” and to showcase Dak’s improvement for the NFL. So instead of sticking to our identity as a power run team that beats you up, we started throwing it. And the mentality has infected the entire team. We MUST get back to being the biggest bully that loves running it down the opponents’ throats and beating them up. This finesse garbage makes me sick.
4. Mullen’s “give a damn” is set at zero. I know there are a whole lot of people who are upset at him smiling after the missed FG at the end. Personally, I think they’re reading way too much into it. What isn’t being talked about is Mullen wearing shorts or thinking we had an extra timeout at the end of the game. He treats these non-conference games like they’re NFL preseason games that don’t count. And then he had the audacity to say in the postgame press conference that 50% of teams that played Saturday will lose. That’s something I’d have expected to hear from Sylvester Croom.
Frankly, Mullen has lost his fire. He’s become a #CelebrityCoach that loves being a #CelebrityCoach. He’s always talking about his super exclusive shoes or running the Boston Marathon or surfing or 100 other things than actual football. Mullen loves being popular. I want the coach back who didn’t care about being liked and pissed off everyone.
5. The OL continues to hold us back. Who’s in charge of the OL? That would be Mullen’s BFF, John Hevesy. Let’s talk honestly about Hev for a bit.
Hev & Mullen go way back. They were both longtime assistants with Urban Meyer. There’s a lot of loyalty there. It’s admirable, but it’s hurting the program.
Hevesy has a very abrasive personality. It hurts us badly when we’re trying to recruit offensive linemen. He rubs parents, players, and high school coaches the wrong way. No one with decent options wants to come play for him after they actually meet him. Why do you think we lose virtually every major recruiting battle for OL prospects?
But what’s worse than that is that Hev has gained a reputation for being a lazy recruiter. In fact, Hev openly talks about how much he hates recruiting. Peeps, I cannot overstate how terrible that is. Recruiting, especially OL, is the lifeblood of a program. If a coach doesn’t like to recruit and won’t recruit, he should go to the NFL or high school.
We’re only signing about 3 OL a year instead of 5-7. And all of them are Plan B or Plan C. There is virtually no margin for error when you sign that few OL. And we all know OL, along with QB, is the biggest crapshoot there is in recruiting. I’d argue it’s an even bigger crapshoot than QB.
Personally, I think Hev is a decent developer and coach once he gets guys. The problem is he isn’t getting players with real talent. We’re poaching 2 star OL projects from SEMO. Did you know the last OL we had drafted was Gabe Jackson – a Croom recruit? Hev hasn’t had a single OL that he has recruited and signed be drafted since coming to State.
Hev has become dead weight to the staff, but Mullen has let it be known Hev is untouchable.
6. Mullen’s one big thing he could always hang his hat on was that he didn’t lose games he was favored to win. Even when we weren’t being competitive with the big boys, he could fall back on that. No longer.
Sep 3, 2016; Starkville, MS, USA; South Alabama Jaguars running back Tyreis Thomas (9) runs the ball during the fourth quarter of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. South Alabama won 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
7. Losing to USA erased almost all the good Mullen has done in the last 7 years. That #1 ranking seems like a lifetime ago now. He completely failed to build off that success. Now we’re back to being the SEC team that loses to nobodies. USA didn’t even have a football program until 2008 and didn’t move up to FBS until 2010, I think. And they beat us in our house. We’re the national joke all over aGAIN.
Saturday was a rude awakening. This team has a lot of deficiencies. I don’t want to overreact after one game. We could beat SCar next Saturday and we wouldn’t be too far off track. But the team I saw against USA has a max ceiling of 4 wins with only 2 or 3 being more likely.
The program as a whole is the bigger concern. It’s become painfully clear that Dan Mullen no longer wants to be in Starkville. He has sabotaged recruiting by shopping himself to every open CFB job in America every December. But worst of all, he’s become complacent and developed a culture of complacency within the staff and team. I like to call it the Dan Mullen Country Club.
The Dan Mullen Country Club is Mullen and “his guys.” Those guys are Hev and Scott Sallach. I would include Billy Gonzalez, but he seems to coach his tail off and has produced in recruiting. But Hev & Sallach are liabilities. Neither is an outstanding coach or recruiter. If they were one or the other, you could work around the deficiency in one area. Yet somehow, 8 years into the Mullen Era, both continue to draw a paycheck from MSU. It is costing us wins. And for $4-5 million a year, I expect Dan to put more emphasis on winning than maintaining friendships. If Mullen wants to prioritize friendship over the program, especially after shopping for another job every year, then he can join another recent MSU coach who made that decision in the former HC unemployment line.
It’s time for the players to look themselves in the mirror and ask what type of team they want to be. Some leaders need to emerge. And we have GOT to find some offensive linemen and a QB. It’s time for a culture change at State. The Country Club must be destroyed and a ruthless aggression re-introduced. That’s the only hope for turning things around that I can see.
That’s what I saw Saturday. Feel free to agree or disagree. Comments are always welcomed and enjoyed. Fire in the Hole!