Side note: usefulness of this may be depressed since Dan Mullen's probably gone from Mississippi State in the next few days, but whateva.
In late September, Mississippi State was coming off consecutive losses to Auburn and LSU when they faced Georgia. With only a win against inept Memphis to their credit, no one expected much, but Georgia had just lost to South Carolina and Arkansas and only had a win against Louisiana Lafeyette to their credit, so no one expected much out of the opponent either. AJ Green was in the fourth and final game of his suspension for selling his bowl jersey.
Mississippi State won 24-12 despite getting outgained by sixty; in a mini-Denard performance Chris Relf was 9 of 14 for two touchdowns and had 109 yards on the ground on 20 carries. Items and observations follow.
Brutally Inadvertent Honesty
"The importance of this game cannot be understated."
I think you just did, actually.
This Is Not The Michigan Offense
It's the spread but it's closer to Auburn's than Michigan's. Amongst Michigan opponents the closest comparison is Illinois. Michigan almost never uses presnap motion. At WVU Rodriguez would occasionally pull a slot receiver into the backfield or motion one out back into the slot, but at Michigan even that's been eliminated. About the only guy moving before the snap is Vincent Smith on his occasional head starts out into the flat to threaten screen. Meanwhile Michigan hasn't run more than a couple true option plays in three years.
Mississippi State uses a ton of motion and runs a ton of option. Here's MSU's first touchdown, a triple option that sees an end-around fake lead into a triple option look with both a shovel and pitch. Georgia makes it easy by not covering the pitch guy:
Shades of Michigan against Illinois.
That motion and reliance on the option is not what Michigan does. MSU rarely runs straight up zone plays of any variety, possibly because their offensive line can't handle it. They compensate by optioning guys off. This means a steady defense ready to execute the proverbial assignment football can erase the best bits of the MSU offense and force Relf into a bunch of uncomfortable situations—Bulldog QBs combined to throw five interceptions against LSU and even Kentucky forced him into a 7 of 17 day. This does not describe Michigan at all, obviously.
Dan Mullen: Pretty Smart
On Mississippi State's next drive they try it again and get stuffed:
On second and eight Mullen dials up a play perfectly constructed for the situation. He flips the option, changes the formation, and goes after the guy who just shot up on the pitch:
He's suckered in after getting chewed out by his DC on the sideline, allowing Chad Bumphis a vast amount of room on the outside since the outside WR ran the safety off. If the option works, it works; if it doesn't you're likely to have your best WR open for a big chunk. This is not the kind of stuff you can do every play—you are inherently limited by your players—but that's an example of a smart offensive coach exploiting a hole he expects will be there after you adjust.
Mississippi State is a team almost totally devoid of talent on offense and has been for a million years, and Dan Mullen has dragged them to around average.
Chris Relf: Hoss, Highly Variable Thrower
Relf is more Tebow/Newton than Robinson. They used power:
He's 240 with good speed but not much in the way of quicks. Meanwhile, his throws are erratic, some well off target, some either horrible decisions he got lucky on or gorgeous back-shoulder fades:
Which is that? If we're talking about a team trying to man up Crab against Texas Tech, it's the latter. We aren't, we're talking about a 56% passer on a team that throws 30% of the time. So… could go either way. He's got some Denard in him, throwing zingers that end up high or low:
Note that "cannot be understated" guy follows that up with "Bumphis took a cheerleader into the hedges." Someone put Chris Martin in a box and ship this guy to Chicago.
This was mentioned earlier today but good Lord, Manny Diaz is one guy you should take seriously when he does the defensive coordinator thing and talks about being very aggressive. When Mississippi State calls a play they're usually sending at least one and most of the time two; occasionally they will show blitz and check when the opponent checks but against Georgia that just resulted in crappy zone coverage and lots of time for Aaron Murray to shred it.
Their cornerbacks are not very good. This is a ball you can make a play on or maybe intercept but this guy does the full Todd Howard:
That sets up Georgia in scoring position, at which point Mississippi State eats up consecutive runs with maniacal run blitzes…
…manically blitzes Aaron Murray on third and twelve, maniacally tackles the obvious RB screen after ten yards, and then watches maniacally from the sidelines as Mark Richt limply sends in the field goal team.
They don't have an obvious standout player other than Pernell McPhee, a JUCO from Pahokee Michigan had a brief, predictably fruitless dalliance with a couple years ago. He's quick and disruptive. The rest of the guys seem to know their assignments and get in the right spots. They don't have to beat blocks much because MSU moves around so much and attacks vertically, which will lead to plays on which guys get shoved out of big holes. Could be dangerous against Denard; not so much Georgia's extremely mediocre set of tailbacks.
Their safeties are thumping tacklers and very solid, or at least were in this game. Georgia lost an all but sure touchdown when Ealey was separated from the ball at the one yard line:
On other plays those overhang guys came up well and tackled without a hint of disastrous long runs.
That play above also shows a distinct vulnerability to seam routes—MSU will often keep those safeties way back—that should see Michigan tight ends and Roy Roundtree have a productive day as long as they catch the damn ball.
They finally nab a good coach, and he's probably gone after two years to go to another SEC program. I suppose the best way to make them feel better about themselves is to dominate them in the bowl. Then, they'll think that Mullen was overrated anyway, mistakenly believing that they'll be better off without him.
Let's not get too ahead of ourselves, he is the lowest paid coach in the SEC, living in Starkville, and coaching a program with nowhere near the recruiting cache or current players to succeed like he would at Florida.
I recognize that Mississippi State is not a glamorous place to coach. I don't think Dan is leaving just yet. The AD will throw more money at him. He is the first head coach to see the stadium sell out. He is in a talent rich state where players tend to like to stay home. Mississippi is the state that gave us Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, etc. If you look at the current rivals recruiting rankings, you have #24 Auburn, #25 Wisconsin, #26 Mississippi State, #27 Michigan State, #28 Virginia, #29 Michigan, #30 TCU.
I realize much has to do with class size, but Mississippi State currently has some good company in the rankings. Dan has a good thing going.
Rivals rankings tend to inflate SEC recruiting. This is something that stuck out a lot when I was doing the DD series. The 5th best player in Michigan is usually a 3-star, the 12th best in Mississippi was almost always a 4-star. If you see their careers play out, the Michigan kid ends up being better. I think one of my early diaries was on this too. The class rankings don't tell as much. Positional rankings and state rankings are a bit better.
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I can see where the SEC gets a bump. Most of their recruits are from the south and we all know that the further south you go, the faster the people. I am less impressed with Mississippi State's recruiting after seeing they are ranked tenth in the SEC according to rivals.
I doubt there's a disproportionate amount. Maybe there are a lot of local kids who want to stay home, but you'll need more of them - Mississippi's the second-smallest state in the area in terms of population - you're still going to have to fill the roster, and even if you do have one potential NFL Hall of Fame player every 10 years, you'll notice none of the guys you listed went to either Mississippi or Mississippi State: there are other in-state options, even if the landscape has changed a bit since those guys were in school.
I'm not trying to argue that Mullen hasn't done a good job - quite the opposite, actually. There's just a practical limit to what MSU can do to keep him there. I don't think they can spend the money that Miami (YTM) or UF can throw around, and of course there are a few more guys in Florida you can recruit ... you don't have to lock down every four-star player in the state (nor could you).
I think it takes a combination of factors to keep a good coach at a school with a smaller reputation ... he almost has to be looking for that job, for the chance to live in a smaller college town, maybe in some cases to understand that the ceiling is lower. (No one expects Mississippi State or Purdue or Oklahoma State or North Carolina State to compete for a national championship year in and year out.) I guess we'll find out pretty soon if Mullen is the type of guy to hang around for a while.
That's just how life works when you're not a major program. Coaches mostly leave for more money, but even if you can give them a competitive contract, you can't give them competitive facilities and program prestige. This is why you will very rarely see the non-elite schools with good teams, at least for very long.
As a sports fan in SEC country, the best single word to describe Bob Rathbun's voice would probably be "ubiquitous." He calls at least two or three games a week between college FB, Basketball, Baseball and as the voice of the Atlanta Hawks. What he lacks in quality, he certainly makes up for in quantity.
(This was meant for zone left below.) The man is internally motivated. Dan has a good motor, to put it in player terms. He is one of those people who, if given the job of stacking cans on a shelf, would be the best shelf stacker he could be. I think he has tremendous motivation in his second year as a head football coach, coaching his first bowl game as a head coach. He isn't going to just mail it in.
Love watching Georgia get beat, regardless of the team
As a M alum living in Atlanta, I've learned that next to OSU and MSU, there's no team I hate more than Georgia. If you listen to the locals, you'd think they'd won 20 national titles. Totally overrated.
Don't even get me started on this topic... I was in Athens watching the OSU-Michigan game, and this d-bag kept saying things like 'turn this Michigan big ten shit off... this isn't a real game.. this isn't a rivalry"
It wasn't competitive, but it is THE rivalry. Georgia claims it has rivalries with Auburn, Florida etc., yet UGA fans root for them in the national championship games... They cite SEC pride...and that's fine, but you can't claim the rivalry is that intense, if you can root for the team.
This obviously opens up a can of worms in Starkville. MSU coach Dan Mullen's name was near the top of the list last time, and you know it will be again. He's already been connected to the Miami opening, but he's repeatedly denied any interest in leaving Starkville.
I texted Mullen after the Meyer news broke, and he said he had not heard about it, nor had he talked with his mentor, under whom he worked at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida from 2001-08.
"News to me. Happy at State," Mullen said.
He then asked where I heard it, and when I told him, Mullen said, "Wow."
So, uh, wait. Brian didn't clarify the most pressing question (at least if you're a certain Mississippi State fan (or two)): is this Mississippi State defense the best defense that Michigan will face this year?
The 2nd play you showed with the shovel option had similar backfield assignments, but the formation wasn't an overshift and so the blocking was completely different. Notice how the pulling guard never got into the play. I'd bet he's not as fleet of foot as their right guard.
I'm surprised you didn't put the video of Ballard getting the shovel for a big gain.
About their safeties, #5 seems to bring the wood, but I'm not very impressed with #4. They do a lot of substitutions even in their secondary and moving people around.
#34 and # 50 are starting to impress me. Although #50 impresses me in a similar, if to a greater extent, way as Kovacs does.