Here are the three things that I’m NOT worried about Saturday:
1) OC Jim Chaney’s play calling. Pretty balanced, pretty smart, not terribly risky. We’re about 70/30 run/pass so far in 2017, and I think that is about right based on:
a) who we’ve played
b) game status (i.e. burn clock, wear down defense, etc.
c) a true freshman backup quarterback, and
d) Chubb & Co.
Though we’re currently ranked as the #71 team in the nation in pass efficiency, the Brice Ramsey experiment and bad hands really bring this down. A couple of bad throws by Fromm, eleventy-six drops, and some whiffs by our offensive line have, in my mind, made execution much more of a problem than our play calling. And I don’t think Chaney has asked our players to do anything they’re not capable of, or are not comfortable doing.
2) Mississippi State receiving corps. Last year I was freaking out over what the Ole Miss receiving corps would do to us, and turns out we were right. But these Bizarro Bulldogs are ranked #81 nationally in receiving yards per game, #77 in yards per reception, and #95 in receiving yards per game. Though they have 8 players with at least 3 receptions (through 3 games), only 1 has double-digit receptions (10) and only 1 has over 100 total receiving yards, and 2 of those 8 are tight ends. None of the top 3 receivers are taller than 5’10”.
The ball is spread around nicely, but these receivers block and deceive more by dragging defenders out of the running zone. I agree they are very effective, but I think our size, our linebackers, and our scheme can contain those Starkville receivers… if we do our jobs.
3) 4, 5, and 6. All split out on the same side. I perked up my ears when I heard about this lineup on the radio broadcast Saturday night, and though I haven’t been able to see it on TV, it sounds delicious. A go up and get it true wideout (#6 Javon Wims), flanked on the inside with two quick twitch specialists (#4 Mecole Hardman, #5 Terry Godwin) running seams or setting up a bubble. I don’t know how many times this has happened, but the simple numerical sequence combined with the potential each player has to break it wide open. Woke.
Here are the three things that I AM worried about Saturday:
1) Rhythm is gonna get us. MSU is clicking and running on all offensive cylinders compared to UGA, and they’re opening up the playbook. They are executing, and thus have multiple options on most every play. That gives a dual-threat athlete like Fitzgerald an even greater chance to be explosive and use his talents. They’ve only played one power 5 team (LSU), but I still think they are a run-first team.
They rank #20 in the nation with 138 rushes so far, #11 with 297 rushing yards per game, #8 at 6.47 yards per rushing attempt, and #5 with 893 total rushing yards. Their total offensive output averages 6.82 yards per play. They look to run about 46 times a game and throw about 26 (with a 61% completion ratio). All this tells me is that they run, run well, and pass off the run. I haven’t seen every play, but I’ve seen plenty of play-action, even giving options of setting up WR screens before chucking it downfield if the corners bite and they see advantageous matchups on a safety. They love to seal the edge and get their big ball carriers in space (both RB Aeris Williams and QB Nick Fitzgerald), and use counters often.
They have a defined offensive philosophy, are balanced, are sticking to it, and are performing at a high level. Dan Mullen has his Mutts clicking, and if we can’t contain off tackle, if we can’t get our linebackers to pursue, or if we over-pursue (I saw LSU look pretty undisciplined), then it will be a long night in the Classic City.
2) Nick Fitzgerald. The 6’5” 235 lb. product out of Richmond Hill, GA has really developed as a quarterback under Dan Mullen and MSU QB Coach Brett Elliott. He wasn’t highly recruited, especially as a QB out of high school, and many schools pegged him as a tight end. But he’s calling signals now, and has the State offense putting up gaudy numbers. I detailed some of those up above, but what worries me in how this guy plays the game.
Fitzgerald is playing smart. He frequently slides when carrying the ball, and I’ve seen him chuck it out of bounds when facing coverage. Yet he’s a very capable runner with long strides and above average speed for his size. But he is also tough. He took a beating last week from LSU, and not just on keepers, and not just on scrambles. He stayed in the pocket pretty well in the face of pressure, and took some sizable hits from LSU pass rushers. Even took a few to the helmet, but the player leaving the game were the LSU linemen (targeting), not Fitzgerald. This is no 2016 Sean White – I easily see him staying cool under the pressure from Atkins, Thompson, Carter, Bellamy and company. He won’t wilt, but maybe we can help him make mistakes.
3) Thin UGA secondary. Malkom Parrish is likely still out, and even Coach Smart says the most important contribution from Parrish would be depth. We have no interceptions as of yet (one of only 9 teams in the nation without one). I’ll grant you that we have faced run-heavy teams (ND, App State), but Samford was definitely pass happy. Yes, we’ve had at least 3 perfect opportunities for picks, but it seems the dropsies aren’t limited to our receivers. We’re seeing good results on fumbles (forcing and recovering), good results forcing pressure on the opposing QB, but not good results on getting breaks on the ball and reading the routes. Apparently we can cover, and make up ground while ball is en route, (top 20 nationally in yards allowed per attempt, top 10 nationally in yards allowed per completion) but we need Dawgs with instincts and coverages. We can rush 3-4 and keep contain (I hope), so we should have enough personnel to read the routes and jump a pass.
As mentioned above, Mississippi State is, to me, a run-first team so our backfield depth isn’t scary as such. But they use the run to set up the pass, and if our secondary is constantly looking into the backfield for possible run support, once they get tired they can get burned. And the Brownish Bulldogs know how to exploit this.
What worries you about Mullen’s Mississippi Mutts against Kirby’s Classic City Canines? Leave it in the comments below, and as always…