Content provided by All Things Maroon – A MSU and SEC blog.
On a night where fortune met misfortune on numerous occasions, #21 MSU fell to #13 Arkansas 38-31, in one of the most intense and emotional games, that’s ever been played on the surface of Scott Field. MSU and Arkansas, alternated the role of the victim, as closed doors seemed to open at the most inopportune time for both teams throughout the night. The end result left MSU fans stunned, disappointed, but mostly PROUD of their team’s effort. Long story short, State could not have had worse things happen to them when they did. We’ll talk more about some of those misfortunes, as we make our way through our game recap. Here’s my game notes from the match up between the Bulldogs and Hogs.
(1) The BAD…Defense? What happened to BEND but don’t BREAK?: One thing was clear on Saturday night, and that’s that we didn’t force one of the best QBs in the country, to make tough throws. Mallet benefited from quick screens, open WRs, and allowing his target’s feet to do the dirty work. On his 26 drop backs, Mallet was sacked twice (LB White and DE McPhee), and hurried just 2 other times. One of those hurries resulted in an INTby Nickoe Whitley, which was easily one of the top plays in College Football on Saturday. Other than that, poor tackling, and blown assignments opened the door for big plays, taking away the need to drive the ball down field. Against Bama, State gave up big plays that were uncharacteristic of Manny Diaz’s Defense, allowing scores of 45, 78, and 56 yards. Nails, coffin, ballgame. State has forced teams to drive the length of the field for the entire year, but vs Bama and Arkansas, the Bulldogs have seemed to have lost their identity. Against the Hogs, State gave up scores of 62, 25, and 89 yards. On the 62 yd run by Kniles Davis:Dawg DE Pernell McPhee penetrated the backfield, but was held from behind, and brought down from behind by his blocker (no call). Even after Davishit the hole, the MSU secondary didn’t show the physicality that it takes to shed a blocker, both Safeties over pursued the play, which eliminated the second level of defense. No second level, means all a runner has to do is make it past the line of scrimmage. Easy TD. On the 25 yd Screen pass to DJ Williams: Diazed dialed up a blitz from the strong side, while the Hog OL patiently waited to allow State’s blitz to once again-over pursue. As Whitley and others came after Mallet, not one MSU player put their hands up to bat the pass (which was a low dart), and Williams simply cut across the Secondary by following his blocks. Easy TD. On the 89 yd TD pass to Jarius Wright: Busted zone coverage. We disguised the look by having Chris White shading Wright from the snap, as Wright’s pattern broke off, and another WR entered White’s zone that he is responsible for, White correctly shifted to his zone and shaded the new receiver. The problem is, KJ Wright was caught eyeing the back field-about the same time he realized his zone was uncovered. After that, it just got worse. Nickoe Whitley, who was not only out of place to start the play, ended up in pursuit of Arkansas’ Jarius Wright (who caught the pass). Nickoe sacrificed a TD saving tackle opportunity around the MSU 30 yd line, for the chance to re-adjust his angle for a strip. The Speed of the WR won the race, and MSU found itself down 3. Easy TD. And a BONUS break down for you readers, 7 yd TD pass to Kniles Davis in Double OT: MSU Safety Charles Mitchell showed blitz on the edge, while DE Sean Fergeson was supposed to show a zone read on the perimeter, in the flat. On the snap, Mitchell blitzed, Fergeson did not keep an eye on Davis the RB, who became a receiver out of the back field on a short delay. Fergeson saw the play developing, but was too far inside to recover.Easy TD. Anyone throwing up on their keyboard yet? The fact is, this HAS to be FIXED. The Offense was responsible for State’s 2 week long identity crisis, but the night they return to MSU’s style of football, the D performs poorly for the 2nd week in a row. Poor tackling, missed assignments, and a lack of physicality cost us. When the Offense plays as well as they did, there’s no way you can let them down with that kind of performance. We forced Arkansas into our kind of game on Offense, but not on Defense. We handed the Hogs the game on D. Now, with that said, we forced 3 turnovers, and showed some grit when we had to, but we have A LOT to clean up, with just a few days to do so. Either we are displaying a lack of execution, or other teams have figured Diaz out. Too many plays where guys went ‘untouched’. One more thing, Corey Broomfield needs to stop playing ‘shy’ football and man up and hit somebody. Poor, poor play from a good football player.
(2) The Good…Hats off to the Offense:If you would have told me on Friday that State would have finished with 32 First Downs, 486 total yards, with a 15 minute advantage in the Time of Possession battle, there’s no way I would have picked us to lose (I didn’t anyway). QB Chris Relf had thebest game of his career, finishing the night 20-30 for 224 yds, with another 103 yds on the ground. Relf tallied 1 TD, on his 23 yd TD run. Say what you will about the kid, but it was his reads and scrambling abilities that led to scores on MSU’s final 2 drives in regulation, that resulted in 10 points, and new life for the Bulldogs in O.T. Relf did a great job of protecting the ball in the passing game, with all but one of his passes having the possibility of being picked. There were a few not-so-great throws, but there werealso some catches that needed to be made. Like I always say, playmakers make plays. He missed all of his deep shots, but they ended up being effective in loosening up the Hog D, with the exception of the game’s final possession. Relf had a chance on 3rd down, but misfired to the inside of WR Arceto Clark on the goal line. Could this be the confidence building game that Relf needed, in order to become a duel threat QB? Anyway, RB Vick Ballard played his heart out. 33 carries for 150 yds, and 3 TDs. I believe he is 1 shy of the school season record. His heart, motor, and physical nature, earns him 2-3 yds more than is actually there. Enough cannot be said about his effort and determination. If I can’t have Anthony Dixon, give me Vick Ballard. I think we all saw the emergence of a future star on Saturday night, in WR Chris Smith. The Meridian native was clutch, pulling down 5 catches for 78 yds. 3rd Down go-to guy? I think so. WR Chad Bumphis was solid (5 for 45), and Arceto Clark made some difficult catches to extend drives (3 for 29). I’m really liking what I’m seeing from Michael Carr, though he finished with just 1 catch for 9 yds, he is doing a lot of the little things right, such as blocking. MSU finished with 262 yds on the ground, 224 yds through the air, and with 37:24 of possession time. The Dawgs had scoring drives of 86, 70, 60, 75, and 47 yards. Keep this up, and a 9 win season is completely a reality.
(3) The Ugly…Unfortunate Happenings:I know you guys are already asking yourselves about why I haven’t mentioned the fumbles, etc., but as you can see, I was saving it for this section. In my opinion, 5things killed MSU on Saturday night. State was up 21-17 in the 3rd Qtr, and had 2 things go against them. (1) When driving across midfield, MSU faced a 3rd Down and 7: Relf threw to an open Arceto Clark (out of his break), but was hit extremely early before the ball arrived…NO call. Even Arkansas’ sideline knew it. Killed a nice drive, and the officials HAVE to throw the flag there and didn’t. (2) After stopping Arkansas, State’s ensuing possession was moving along smoothly, until Chris Relf fumbled. Relf fought for a 6 yd gain, and as he was being brought down at the Ark 22, took a helmet to his ball-carrying arm. The hit knocked the ball loose JUST before Relf’s knee was down. After a personal foul after the play on the Hogs, the next play went for an 89 yd Arkansas score. (3) The heartbreaker. During MSU’s first O.T. possession, Vick Ballard hit the outside edge on a 13 yd run, did all he could do to stay in his feet, and dove for the pylon with the ball extended, only to have the ball knocked out of his hands. The ball carried over the pylon in the air, resulting in a touch back for Arkanasa. No doubt that MSU had ALL the momentum at that point, and the score probably would have been the game winner. (4) On back-to back plays, MSU hurt themselves once again. On the first play, State faced a 3rd down in Double O.T., and Chris Relf missed an open Arceto Clark on a slant route. The pass and the extra point, would have tied the game, and extended the Dawgs’ life. (5) On the next play, something that I have preached all year long, happened once again. Chris Relf was left all alone in the backfield in a critical passing situation, this time on 4th Down. I’ve discouraged empty sets for the MSU QBs, because it eliminates the extra protection that they are more than likely going to need. As soon as the ball was snapped, State’s most reliable OL for the past 3 years, missed the end-around block (Derek Sherrod), and Relf hardly had time to think. Relf was sacked, and Arkansas prevailed 38-31. It really hurts, when your top guys, and your most reliable guys fall short. To me, the Defense rarely made Arkansas work for their points, and made costly mistakes. With that said, Relf, Ballard, and Sherrod played their butts off.
(4) Grading the Coaches:Def. Coordinator Manny Diaz ( C-) has a lot to clean up, in order to properly prepare for TSUN. Their misdirection and option game is very STRONG. We need to practice tackling, and find some toughness before Saturday night. The D created 3 turnovers, but the quick and easy scores cannot continue to happen. Off. Coordinator Les Koenning (B+) had a much better game than I expected. I think there was 2 or 3 terrible play calls, but to be 4 of 5 on 4th Downs, you are doing something right. Stay away from 3rd Down calls that have any hesitation, and empty sets for our QBs. Dan Mullen (A-), I really like the fake punt, even though we got the first down by a literal inch. His time management was strong, he gets after the officials, and keeps his emotions in check. Gotta light a fire under Diaz to make an adjustment or two. Something.
(5) Stadium Atmosphere: Amazing. I went back and watched the replay, and I can tell yall that we are slowly but surely becoming an extremely LOUD enviornment to play in. UK struggled with the noise, and I believe we drew Arkansas offsides 3 times. Not bad. The stadium looks great (full), people are learning to yell, and we make quite the impression on TV. Keep doing our job, and Maroon out Oxford this weekend. Make no mistake, we are a big part of our Bulldogs’ 5-2 mark at home. 10th straight home sell-out. Great job of remembering Nick Bell. Loved his #36 out there on the field, along with the maroon 36 yardlines. When I heard that lone cowbell ringing during the moment of silence, and looked up to see Nick Bell’s mom ringing her cowbell, that was an emotional moment.
Mullen on the loss: “For us to continue to build, for our young players to develop, it’s not that they have to make 25 plays in a game, they have to make the one big play at the key moment in the game. That, for us, is what we need to take that next step to be right at the top in the SEC instead of the middle.”
Anyway guys, you thoughts on the game? Best loss you’ve ever seen?
Agree or Disagree with any of my Game Notes and Opinions?
How would you grade the coaches?
Where are we going bowling?
Looks like Saturday is going to come down to the team that responds better after a tough loss, huh?
We’ll start talking about the Black Bears tomorrow.
-2 game season for Auburn. Link
-What we learned in the SEC during Week 12, Chris Low. Link
-Bowl Projections. Link
-We are now ranked #25th and Arkansas is #12.