It’s game time baby and time to cut the silly shit and talk football.
Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State team is a classic Mullen team. They live off the success of 3-4 plays that they rep and rep and rep some more. It’s essentially option football. If you stop their key plays, you totally limit what they do on offense. This is why you have seen them struggle mightly to generate points vs. Georgia and Auburn. Both Georgia and Auburn had great success early in the game stopping the key plays that make up the base of Mullen’s offense. This is no different than most college teams, but Mullen’s scheme is even more dependent on the ability to outnumber you in the box with his QB as a runner. If you can limit the run, without committing an extra defender into the box, the Ags are going to be very well positioned to win this game. That is the formula Auburn and Georgia used. Can the Ags do the same?
Let’s take a look at some key plays you can expect to see a lot of on Saturday night.
I wrote about this in detail here. This is a play they will run 8-10 times a game. They like to run this out of single back and love it inside the red zone. It’s simply designed to give them a numbers advantage in the run game.
They also love to fake the QB power and throw the ball. Fitzgerald oversells this. If you seem him take a deep squat, he’s going to pull up and throw it.
Screen out of trips look.
They love to split out their 6’5 275 lb TE, #83 Jordan Thomas, and let him lead block on this play. It’s a play we should be well prepared for and something all teams run. Armani Watts is one of the best in the game at getting down the alley and wrecking this play. A&M’s corners, especially D-BONE Renfro, are good at getting off blocks on the perimeter.
Read Option/Zone. Again, I wrote about this in detail here. Mullen has been running this play as THE foundation of his offense for 15+ years. In fact, watch how he teaches it here with clips from the Ags vs. Utah 2003. (vomit bags not included)
Under Center Usually Means Play Action Pass
I don’t know if Mullen is setting up some specific things for later in the season. But, thus far in the year, they are really predictable out of this look. They are generally looking to get 1 on 1 coverage for #6 or #83 and throw the ball.
Here #83 runs an out and up vs. man coverage. Anytime they can get #83 in an easy to diagnose man look, he becomes their #1 passing target down the field. He’s a very large man, but certainly isn’t a blazer. STATE lacks a blazer on the perimeter which is why they are the worst team in the SEC in generating passing plays over 20 yards. Despite having a top 20 national rushing offense, they don’t generate successful play action plays as much as you would expect, given Fitzgerald’s above average arm.
Empty Sets: DRAW DRAW DRAW DRAW
State does not go 5 wide very often at all. When they do, you better spy Fitz. They love to run qb draw out of empty. In the above play vs Auburn, Fitz runs a called draw to the 1 yard line.
Favorite Goal Line Changeup
In addition to zone and qb power, State loves to run this fake stretch bootleg concept on the goal line. They will fake the stretch run to their back and then roll Fitz out behind the RB, while the RB runs a flood route. The concept is meant to bait the flats defender to either come hit Fitz in the mouth leaving the RB or TE open for an easy catch or if the defenders stay in the flat, Fitz will turn it up field quickly and then you have to stop a 235 ball carrier with a full head of steam. The AGs have struggled with similar plays this year, so expect to see this on Saturday night.
Factors that Will Determine the Game
State OL vs Ag DL.
Teams that shutdown Mullen’s offense do it because their DL is good enough to shut down the bread and butter run plays with their front 4/5 defenders. Isn’t this always the case in football? Sure. That’s why the big boys of SEC defense, Georgia, Bama, Auburn, and Florida have always done a great job of slowing down STATE’s offense. Their DL controls the LOS and STATE’s passing game (outside of 2014) isn’t good enough to consistently move the ball. I’d say based on 2017 results so far, that’s the case again this year. They are #106 in passing offense for a reason.
Eyes of the Defense
Anytime you play an option football team, you have to be extremely sound in your assignment. Their design to all about getting you out of position to gain leverage in numbers and angles to run the ball. LSU was killed by this. They lost their eyes all night and STATE made them pay. Auburn and UGA did not and State didn’t do much of anything. It’s really that important. Devin White, LSU’s inside LB, was consistently out of position against STATE. The AGs were burned badly by poor eyes and terrible assignment integrity in the 2016 game, so Mullen will test this early and often.
STATE hasn’t shown the ability to beat man coverage with their WRs. I expect Mullen to test our CBs early. Why? Because STATE was very conservative early vs Georgia and Auburn and got behind early. I think Mullen comes out much more aggressive in this game and tests our corners in coverage. I think he’ll respect A&M’s front enough to try and keep safeties out of the box. I expect Chavis to come out with a lot of single high safety looks and force STATE to the air. This will set up for Mullen to test Renfro and Oliver and whoever is at nickel.