Thoughts on the Mississippi State Game

A&MvMSU Line

We’ll get to some specifics of how it happened but on Saturday night in Starkville Jimbo Fisher got outcoached by Joe Moorhead.  At the same time, the Mississippi State Bulldogs outplayed the Texas Aggies.  Make no mistake about those two things.  The Aggies made mistakes because of the MSU game plan and how well the MSU players played.  MSU won this game while A&M lost it.

A LOT of credit has to go to Moorhead who realized the Aggies’ greatest two weaknesses and decided to attack them.  I’ve been saying all season the secondary and offensive line had major issues from a talent standpoint.  Despite that, a lot of coaches this season chose to run their team normally rather than attack where the Aggies are weak.  We saw this against Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina where they tried to have a balanced attack.  Those teams lost.

Moorhead apparently decided to do things differently and it paid off in a win for his team.  All night long MSU looked to apply pressure through the air on offense and at the line of scrimmage on defense.  Nick Fitzgerald only attempted 22 passes but he attacked the Aggie corners down the field.  Defensively MSU stacked the line of scrimmage giving the Aggie offense looks and pressure they couldn’t defend.  The Aggies had no answer for what MSU was doing simply because they don’t have the talent needed at those positions.

Before I get to any analysis I want to point out three groups of plays that did the Aggies in:

MSU First Possession – After the Aggies went three and out, MSU took the ball and drove down for a touchdown.  On that possession MSU had FOUR instances of 3rd and 6 or longer and converted all FOUR.  This was a defense that has been solid at getting off the field on 3rd downs all season.  On that drive they failed on four attempts including a 3rd and 12 that resulted in a touchdown.  This really set the tone as MSU would wind up converting some other crucial third downs.

3rd and 21 – This was the biggest killer.  The Ags had just clawed back to be down 14-13 and were about to force the MSU offense to go 3 and out.  All the momentum was about to swing in the Aggies favor.  They not only let MSU convert a 3rd and 21 but gave up an 84 yard pass to the Aggie 2 yard line.  Three plays later MSU would score and be up 21-13.  Still a one score game but it was a dagger to the chest we wouldn’t recover from.  They stop this play and the outcome of the game could be different.

Fitzgerald’s 76 Yard Touchdown Run – While the 3rd and 21 conversion was the dagger to the chest, this run by Fitzgerald twisted the dagger.  Any hope the Aggies had of coming back was squashed with this run.  Even if Fitzgerald doesn’t score MSU likely wins.  It was disheartening to see the Aggie defense give up a long run rather then get a stop and give our offense one last chance to tie things up and get it to overtime.  This run put the game away with a little over 2 minutes left on the clock.
If the defense holds on those three sets of plays this game looks totally different.  Football is about making plays so credit has to be given to MSU but if the Aggie defense holds on two third downs (opening series and 3rd and 21) the Aggies have a legit chance to win this game.  They didn’t though and that’s why MSU won.

Coaching:

This was a tale of two different head coaches in my mind.  I’ve already talked about Moorhead deciding to attack where the Aggies are weak.  His strengths are a running quarterback and solid defense that doesn’t necessarily have to apply pressure.  Moorhead felt he could attack the Aggie secondary through the air as well as attack the line of scrimmage applying pressure to the Aggie offensive line.  It worked and Moorhead got the win.

For Jimbo I feel he coached this game just as he had Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  That style worked in all of those games but it didn’t work here.  The only slight difference is other than Kentucky for a little bit we lead or were tied in those other games from start to finish.  I think Jimbo felt we were 1-2 plays away from gaining and holding the lead.  He wasn’t far off as we were never more than 7 points down until the 3rd and 21 happened.

Here’s how it played out.  We took advantage of Moorhead not punting on 4th down to go into half up 10-7.  I think Jimbo failed to make any major adjustments at half thinking this game would turn out like the previous three.  MSU took the opening possession of the second half for a score to go up 14-10.  The Aggies then clawed back with a field goal to make it 14-13.  The Aggies kick off and on the first play of that possession sack Fitzgerald for a 12 yard loss.  Fitzgerald then gains a single yard setting up that 3rd and 21.  Seems like the Aggies are about to gain momentum but that didn’t happen.  MSU goes down the 2 yard line which leads to a touchdown putting them up 21-13.  Up until that 3rd and 21 there was no reason for Jimbo to believe his defense would fail him.  But it did, and the Aggie team would pay the price getting a loss in what was a winnable game.

Even with that score to go up 21-13 the Aggies weren’t completely out of it.  They got the ball back with 7:33 left on the clock and down 8 points.  They promptly drove down to the MSU 10 yard line before the wheels came off.  On first and goal from the 10 they got a substitution infraction making it 1st and goal from the 15.  Mond is then sacked making it 2nd and goal from 23.  Mond hits a 12 yard play to make it 3rd and goal from the 11 but he’d miss his next pass and then throw an interception in the end zone on 4th down.  Two plays later Nick Fitzgerald would run 76 yards for a score putting MSU up 28-13 and any hopes of the Aggies winning were done.

What worked in the previous three games didn’t work for Jimbo against MSU.  That’s on him.  He thought he could withstand MSU’s attacks against his secondary and at the line of scrimmage against his offense.  He was wrong.  His team lost and he has to take the blame.

I get what he was thinking as he hasn’t had to play in a shootout in a meaningful SEC game until Saturday night.  His method of controlling the time of possession had worked because his defense and offense had always made enough plays to come out on the right side of the scoreboard.  We won the time of possession by 3 minutes on Saturday night but we lost by 15 points.  Time of possession doesn’t always equate to wins when you don’t make enough plays.

The most frustrating thing I can’t figure out from Saturday night is if Jimbo is to blame for the lack of response to MSU applying pressure at the line of scrimmage or if Mond was completely confused by it.  The best way to get a defense to back off excessive pressure at the line of scrimmage is to attack the middle of the field with hot routes.  We did that a few times but there was confusion most of the night on what to do.  It appeared Mond felt like he had more time than he did.  I don’t know if that was by design or a result of Mond being confused.

Based on Jimbo’s reaction on the sideline I believe it had a lot do with Mond.  In watching Jimbo through the years he has a face I like to call “Disappointed Dad” when an offensive series fails to result in something positive.  The quarterback comes to the sideline and Jimbo has his readers sitting on his nose.  He’ll start questioning his quarterback and roll his eyes when the quarterback gives his feedback on what he saw.  They’ll have a discussion but it’s clear Jimbo is disappointed in his quarterback’s decision making.  That happened quite a bit on Saturday night.  A lot more than it’s happened previously this season.  I really think Jimbo had hot routes/plays for Mond to jump on but he just wasn’t pulling the trigger.  Some of that might be on the receivers too which we’ll get to in a bit.

Either way it’s still on Jimbo to have plays his quarterback can execute when a defense is looking to apply pressure.  That wasn’t the case on Saturday night.  MSU made more plays to win that game than A&M did.  That starts with coaching.  Moorhead looked to apply pressure while Jimbo looked to withstand pressure.  Moorhead’s team executed his plan better than Jimbo’s team.  Moorhead got the better of Jimbo that night.

Offense:

Mond:

Poor Kellen Mond gets the brunt of criticism for this game from most fans I’ve seen and heard.  He’s certainly not without fault but do you realize he was 50% on completions on Saturday?  50% completion isn’t horrible by any stretch.  Do you realize the receivers dropped 10 balls on Saturday?  Do you realize Mond was sacked 3 times?  Do you realize Mond was officially hurried 10 other times?  Do you realize we didn’t score a touchdown in the Red Zone again?

It’s natural to blame the quarterback when a team loses but you can’t pin this loss solely on Kellen Mond.  He was under pressure all day long along with his receivers not getting open and dropping the ball when they were.  There’s no doubt Mond could have made better decisions due to the pressure (based on Jimbo’s Disappointed Dad face on the sidelines) but this was a failure on the entire offense.

Blame Kellen Mond all you want but if you do you’re ignorant.  There’s no better option at quarterback than Kellen Mond for this Aggie team.  Starkel would have got pounded too.  I still contend for guys not named Tua, Mond is as good as the next group of SEC quarterbacks.  He’s certainly no Feilepe Franks at Florida who is terrible.  Mond is MUCH better.  He’s in the same conversation as Jake Fromm, Drew Lock, and Jarret Stidham.  I never thought I’d say that this time last year but Kellen Mond is not a bad quarterback.  He’s a true sophomore.  He certainly can still develop but he’s playing behind a suspect offensive line and doesn’t have a single go to receiver to throw to.  Do you see a Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk on this offense?  I sure don’t.

If you’re putting the blame for this loss on Mond’s shoulders you need to pay closer attention to the rest of the issues on offense.

Running Back:

MSU didn’t just stack the box with defenders all night.  They put guys in gaps all night.  They showed they weren’t going to get run on and we didn’t even try.  We only attempted 13 runs totaling 59 yards on the night.  This loss isn’t on our running backs from an attempts standpoint.

One issue I did see from Trayveon is his pass blocking is suspect.  He whiffed on a few guys blitzing during the night.  The difference between Trayveon playing in the NFL will be pass blocking.  There’s a whole lot of guys that play like him so if he wants to play at the next level he’s got to block better on blitzes.

Wide Receivers:

Other than Quartney Davis our receivers had a truly forgettable night.  They didn’t get open for the most part and when they did they dropped 10 passes.  Sternberger had the worst night compared to what he’s capable of.  It wasn’t even close to what he did against South Carolina.

There’s no go to receiver in this group.  There really isn’t.  I know we all hoped Kendrick Rogers would be that after what he did against Clemson but he’s really not that strong of a receiver.  He doesn’t run solid routes and he’s not great catching the ball on the run.  He excels when he’s stopped and looking back to the ball.  When his legs are still and he can focus on the ball he’s fine but if he’s moving downfield he doesn’t have the same hands.

This is not a horrible group by any stretch but they’ve got a long ways to go to be a dependable group.  There’s just too much inconsistency and there’s not a single receiver that commands a double team from a defense.  If there was a single dominant receiver this group probably looks different but there’s a talent deficiency right now.  Not as bad as other units on this team but it’s still missing at least one dominant playmaker.  See the guys I mentioned above like Evans, Reynolds, and Kirk.  Just one of those guys changes the dynamic of this receiving corps in a big way.

Offensive Line:

These guys had their hands full all night long with MSU stacking guys in gaps.  For whatever reason they didn’t know how to handle it.  They weren’t terrible as they gave Mond some time to throw but didn’t give him nearly enough.  They were able to slow down most of the MSU defenders but their biggest issue was they couldn’t anticipate what the stacked gaps meant so a defender would slip through quite often pressuring Mond.

We know this unit isn’t that talented but the confusion and mental mistakes 8 games into the season is frustrating.  I know everybody loves Jim Turner but there’s still issues with this line.  The lack of talent I’m fine with to a degree but the constant mental mistakes and confusion on what the defense is doing makes me wonder how good Turner really is.  He’s certainly a better offensive line coach when he has NFL caliber talent.  Every coach would be, but let’s tap the brakes on Turner being the greatest offensive line coach ever.  I question how great he really is.  Sometimes I wonder if he just does more yelling than actual coaching so everybody believes he’s a great coach because he sounds like it.  Offensive line is not about emotion.  It’s about technique and being extremely smart.  There’s PLENTY of room for this line to learn both.

I don’t think we’re going to see much improvement in this unit the rest of the season so be ready for inconsistencies in blocking and mental mistakes.  Let’s just hope the guys that are redshirted this year and committed show up to campus ready to contribute.

Defense:

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here as we all saw what happened.  Our secondary has been a glaring issue all season.  MSU just decided to attack it from the get go.  It worked as MSU played in front score wise most of the game.

Truthfully, I’m tired of writing about the defense as it’s the same thing week after week.  The defensive line along with Alaka and Dodson show up every week but our secondary is just so terrible.  Sure, the defensive line and linebackers gave up the 76 yard run they shouldn’t have but the game was realistically over at that point.  You take away that run and MSU rushed for 67 yards on 30 carries.  That’s basically 2 yards per carry which is outstanding.  Our defensive line and main linebackers played good enough for most of the game for the Aggies to win.

Our secondary on the other hand was the issue.  We know this.  Our corners aren’t shut down guys and if you’ve got a receiver that can get downfield you can challenge our secondary.  Our safeties are just as bad at covering.  They’re also terrible at defending at the run.  I’m not sure what happened to Derrick Tucker but he’s been REALLY bad all season.  I’m not sure he should even see the field the rest of the season.  We really miss Armani Watts in a bad way.  That guy would make this secondary infinitely better.

Much like our offensive line the secondary is what it is at this point in the season.  There’s not much hope for it to get any better this season.  We must hope the young guys not playing big minutes (Leon O’Neal I’m talking about you) and the committed guys are ready to contribute next year.  We simply don’t have the talent.

Special Teams:

Seth Small was 2 of 3 on field goals so at this point we must realize he’s probably going to miss a kick each game finishing somewhere between 50% and 80% depending on the number of chances he gets.  Braden Mann had an off day which makes perfect sense considering most of the team had an off day.  Rashaud Paul had a nice return we only turned into a field goal since our offense wasn’t able to capitalize it into a touchdown.  I like Paul as a returner.  He’s not Christian Kirk but he’s got pretty good awareness for where the ball is coming down and the punt coverage coming at him.

 

Looking Forward:

The most frustrating part about this game is we have no idea what we have with Jimbo Fisher.  We think we do but it’s ultimately decided solely by wins and losses.  We were on the verge of having a 2012 season but with much less talent.  8 games in we could still go anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3 which is a MAJOR swing.  Jimbo wins out getting 9 wins and nobody gives a damn about this MSU game.  He wins less than 8 and we’ll all look back at this game as the difference maker for the season.  It will be the game we coulda shoulda won but didn’t get it done.

Something tells me we repeat last year where we trade what we thought would be a win over Mississippi State for a win over someone else.  Last year it was Florida and this year I think it’s Auburn.  Sure, there’s a lot of hope in that statement as I sure as hell don’t want Jimbo finishing 7-5 his first season.  I really do think we can beat Auburn as they’re not as good as advertised coming into the season.  Much like Florida last season.  Auburn still has plenty of talent to beat A&M so don’t get confused on that.  This is a 50/50 game based on how both teams have played all season.

The Aggies played their worse game of the year in Starkville and still only lost by 15.  That’s not terrible.  I hope the loss wakes Jimbo up he needs to be a little more aggressive if his secondary is being attacked.  If Auburn is trying to establish the run then it’s okay to play how we played against Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  If Auburn comes out attacking our secondary and is successful Jimbo better be ready to instill a sense of urgency and respond.  He tried his normal method against MSU and it didn’t work.  I’m fine playing a little conservative if you’re up but if you’re behind and your secondary is being attacked the Aggies need to get it going not worrying about time of possession.  Attack their defense as well.

As for the other remaining games I’m still confident we beat Ole Miss and UAB.  LSU looks like a certain loss but we’ll probably match up better with them than MSU.  I don’t see Eddie O doing what Joe Moorhead did.  LSU wants to run the ball and play outstanding defense waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.  When that happens LSU will pounce and score points.  There’s still a chance for this Aggie team to beat LSU but we’ve got three more games to worry about before worrying about LSU.

I still believe Jimbo is the right guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait at least one more week to find out.  Believe it or not there’s still a chance at 10 wins on the season which would be remarkable.  Right now, I think our best realistic scenario is an 8-4 regular season adding a bowl win to finish up 9-4.  That will still be a REALLY good year for Jimbo.  We just have to get through Auburn first before we worry about anything else.

#MAFGA

If you’re reading this blog for the first time and want to get notice when new blogs are posted, you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook by using the following two links.  We post weekly thoughts from the games and other random stuff throughout the year.

Twitter – https://twitter.com/m_a_f_g_a

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Make-Aggie-Football-Great-Again-1998293353741315/

If you want a Make Aggie Football Great Again hat we have some in stock.  They’re $20 including shipping.  You’ll look great in one at Kyle Field or just around town!  You can email chewyredding at yahoo dot com for more information.  Payment can be made by PayPal or Venmo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s