The Numbers Game - Tote the Rock!

A look at how MSU's lack of success on 3rd down conversions and 50/50 philosophy suggest a return to the run-heavy offense is a must...

3rd Down Conversions

Last week Prediction? Pain examined some of the offensive statistics between the 2010 team and the 2012 team. As he pointed out, there was not much difference between the two, and 2012's stats are actually a little better in conference games. The difference, however, is the rushing yardage. Basically Russell made up for Chris Relf's rushing yardage with his arm. That's okay in total offense and points scored, but in terms of converting 3rd downs, which sustain drives, gives your defense a breather and helps with field position, it really hurts..

Year 3rd down conversion % National rank 3rd down % in SEC games SEC rank
2010 45.9 24th 43.2 3rd
2011 38.7 82nd 37.3 6th
2012 34.6 102nd 29.7 13th

3rd downs have gotten progressively worse for this offense. Why? Well, one reason is that we seem to want to throw a bubble screen or 2 yard pass on 3rd & 8, but here's another reason: we aren't putting ourselves in 3rd & short / 3rd & manageable situations. When you substitute a large portion of your offensive yardage with passing for rushing, then you naturally are going to put yourself into longer down and distances because of incomplete passes. Instead of gaining 4 yards on 1st down and 3 on 2nd down, we are gaining 0 on 1st down and 3 on 2nd down (as an example). Which are you more likely to convert: 3rd & 3 or 3rd & 7?

So far in 2013 things haven't been much better.

  • vs. Oklahoma State: 2 of 16 (12.5%)
  • vs. Alcorn State: 5 of 13 (38.5%)
That puts MSU 110th in the country. This is a major problem that must be fixed immediately. You absolutely cannot continue to fail on 3rd down at such a terrible percentage. Not only does it hurt the offense, but it puts the defense in unenviable positions when 3 and outs occur.

Balanced Offense (50/50, run/pass)

We've heard Dan Mullen and Les Koenning say it a few dozen times the last year plus: "we are going to run a balanced 50/50 offense with the run and the pass". Let's take a look at how MSU's offense has been run over the last three years, and then how successful it's been.

SEC game Rushes Passes Run/Pass 3rd Down %
Auburn - 2010 33 35 49/51 33.3%
LSU - 2010 44 18 71/29 53.3%
Georgia - 2010 43 15 74/26 53.8%
Florida - 2010 49 9 84/16 42.9%
Kentucky -2010 39 19 67/33 35.7%
Alabama - 2010 49 23 68/32 50%
Arkansas - 2010 70 30 70/30 45%
Ole Miss - 2010 50 20 71/29 31.3%
Auburn - 2011 63 34 65/35 55%
LSU - 2011 34 25 57/43 42.9%
Georgia - 2011 34 33 51/49 26.7%
South Carolina - 2011 37 30 55/45 43.8%
Kentucky - 2011 32 21 60/40 50%
Alabama - 2011 29 30 49/51 18.8%
Arkansas - 2011 32 31 51/49 31.5%
Ole Miss - 2011 48 13 77/23 30.8%
Auburn - 2012 36 29 55/45 10%
Kentucky - 2012 39 39 50/50 55.6%
Tennessee - 2012 41 39 51/49 28.6%
Alabama - 2012 21 36 37/63 30.8%
Texas A&M - 2012 27 30 47/53 20%
LSU - 2012 24 39 38/62 30%
Arkansas - 2012 36 34 51/49 41.7%
Ole Miss - 2012 25 39 42/58 7.7%

What's the worst stretch of games in Mullen's tenure? Could it be the games in which he got away from what he does best (running the ball) and tried to move the chains through the air? Yep. It's not just because State was behind in the game - that just compounded things; it was because the offense gameplan was to maintain "balance" and once MSU fell behind it was strictly a passing offense.

Mississippi State has always been a hard-nosed rushing team that plays good defense. Even though we brought in a coach that runs a spread offense, it's a version of the spread which relies on a power running game. So we weren't trying to reinvent the wheel....until now.

Mullen is trying to go 50/50 but that's not a recipe for success. We have FIVE talented running backs - let's pound it! And when you do run the football you create more opportunities for 3rd and manageable situations that will help that conversion % and have a domino effect into the defense and provide a better chance to win the game.

Tyler Russell can run this offense, although Dak Prescott should probably at least get some more playing time. But bottom line, the offensive strategy/philosophy of 50/50 needs to be scrapped and the Bulldogs need to get back to being a predominately running team.
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