Nice to finally see the Dawgs take a FBS opponent to the woodshed. And that's exactly what State did to Troy yesterday. Best of all, we did it mostly without Dak and playing a slew of the younger guys. But as always, it's time to see what worked, what didn't, and what we ultimately learned.
1. I gotta give Manny Diaz some serious credit. I've ripped him hard for the bend but don't break approach we've employed most of the season. It was immediately clear that wasn't going to be the case yesterday. State blitzed on the first two defensive plays of the game, resulting in a forced fumble and defensive TD. I loved the aggression right out of the gate and it set the tone for the rest of the day.
2. The second half was a different story. With a big lead, we started clearing the bench - which was the right decision. But we made it harder on those guys by reverting back to the soft D and basically stepping off the gas. The result was Troy basically having the ball the entire half. I understand why we did it, but I don't agree with it. Like I said last week, I can live with a few more big plays if it means we're getting more TFLs and forcing turnovers.
3. Speaking of turnovers, nice to see the D step up and win the TO battle for the first time this season. That's been the big thing missing from the D so far. Of course, when you're being aggressive, you're more likely to force those mistakes and be in position to capitalize.
4. The young kids really stepped up today. Lots of big individual performances to single out. Best of all, they got invaluable game experience, which is going to speed up development and improve depth. And as I pointed out last week, things happen in games you just can't simulate in practice. Until you put them on the field, there's only so much they can develop. Loved seeing us throw them into the fire right from the start.
5. Let's start with Gerri Green. That dude is a beast. He led the team in tackles with 11. He was always around the ball and extremely physical at the point of attack. And he flat saved a TD in the first half by making a tremendous individual play on a KO return.
6. JT Gray had a really good day too. Kinda like Green, there was no huge play that just jumps out at you. But every time you'd look at the players around the ball carrier, Gray was there. He finished tied for 2nd on the team with 7 tackles.
7. AJ Jefferson gonna AJ Jefferson. The guy is just an animal who never quits. I wish we could put his motor in Chris Jones or Nick James. He was one of 6 guys who finished with 7 tackles. But he was second on the day in TFLs with 2 and had a .5 sack. I know the scouts aren't high on him, but all he does is make plays behind the LOS.
8. Jamaal Peters didn't light up the stat sheet, but he was really good. He had just 2 tackles, but he also had 2 PBUs. But one play early on really stuck out to me. I believe it was Troy's second or third possession. They ran to the right and wanted to get the play wide to the corner. But the RB cut it back up inside and was tackled for either no gain or a loss. I don't even remember who made the tackle. What I do remember is the reason the RB tried to cut it back inside is because Peters had read the play and dropped down from his safety spot to seal off the edge. There was no way for the RB to make the corner with the position Peters had. Peters didn't make the tackle, so it doesn't appear on a stat sheet, but he was the reason that play was a complete disaster. And I'm sure he'll get credit for it when the team watches film today. It's one of those "little things" that is often unnoticed but is really important.
9. I thought Mark McLaurin had gotten his first INT as a Dawg. He definitely sold it well, anyway. Much like Peters, he didn't blow up the stat sheet, but was really solid all day. No busted assignments, which is always good to see from true freshmen. He did have the one mistake on STs, but that was mostly a product of bad luck.
10. Smokey Graham had a big day at CB. He was another one of the guys with 7 tackles. He also added a TFL and QBH.
11. Can't forget to mention Brandon Bryant. He forced the fumble that Nelson Adams jumped on for the TD. He also had a QB sack later. Overall, a really good day for him. I love our situation at S going forward with he, Peters, McLaurin, and Coman. Now if we'd just stop playing Evans.
12. Pretty decent day for Nick James, finishing third on the team in tackles with 5. No huge plays that stick out, but that's not his role. He occupied blockers and generally clogged up the run in the middle.
13. Ryan Brown earns a helmet sticker from WMD. He finally brought it yesterday and was another member of the group that had 7 tackles. But most of all, he led the team in TFLs with 3.5, 1 sack, and 1 PBU. Big time game for him. He's been good this season, but hadn't really generated the pressure we expected. Hopefully today was his breakout game in that area.
14. DL absolutely dominated the first half. I don't have enough adjectives to describe how well they played. Troy had just 31 total yards on 37 plays and -20 rush yards. Helmet stickers for that whole unit from WMD. "That's how you're supposed to play! From now on, that's how you play!"
15. Hats off to the D for displaying a ton of guts in the second half. They were on the field almost the entire 30 minutes and for 40+ minutes total. That's absolute hell on a D, even when you've got a big lead. But to their credit, they stood up and made some stops, including holding Troy to a FG on their final drive. It would've been a lot easier to let them have a meaningless late TD just to get off the field, but they stood up and got the stop. It's also worth noting that Troy was averaging over 40 points a game coming in, so holding them to 17 is a good day.
1. Best day yet for this unit under Mullen. They made a couple of big plays and mostly avoided a major mistake.
2. Westin Graves continues to be money kicking the ball. He drained a 42 yard FG and hit all his PATs. Is it too soon to say he's the best K of the Mullen Era?
3. Logan Cooke had a really good day. Nice to see him bounce back after the shankfest in College Station last week. He had 5 punts for 243 yards, 48.6 YPP, long of 65, and 1 inside the 20. He really kept Troy pinned on their end.
4. Devon Bell continues to be solid on KOs. He had 5 touchbacks on 8 kicks.
5. Fred Ross had the big day returning with the 77 yard TD. It was State's first PR TD since 2011. And I'm assuming that was Chad Bumphis. After that, Troy refused to kick it where anyone could return it with a bunch of short line drives.
6. Can't mention special teams without addressing the onside kick. Normally I'd be upset, but I feel like it was mostly bad luck in this particular instance. McLaurin started to drop into his blocking assignment and Troy kicked a hard liner right at him. It hit him right in the leg almost before he realized what was happening, then bounced right to a Troy coverage guy. The problem for me is that we've been so horrendous in the onside department, particularly this year.
1. Offense had a bunch of big plays, which was nice to see. But overall, there wasn't a whole lot of consistency. And while we scored 45 total, the offense only managed 31. That's definitely a bit concerning, but we also have to grade on a curve for Dak only playing 3 possessions. Overall, I'd call it a solid day that continued to highlight our issues, particularly in the run game.
2. I loved seeing us get the ball to Bear Wilson on a screen on the first play of the game. But then we just kinda forgot about him until Fitz found him for his TD. He also had the long grab to set us up with our lone red zone possession of the day. And he had the key block to spring Ross for the TD on the second play of the game. We have got to make a more concerted effort to feed him the ball. A day where Bear doesn't have a minimum of 5 receptions, but preferably 8-10, is a day we wasted.
3. It was pretty obvious that Dak was struggling with the stomach bug. Honestly, I wish we had just sat him and gone with "Fitzley" the whole way. No need in risking him getting hurt because he isn't feeling well against a team we should beat anyway. And you could see he was just a little off throwing.
4. Fitz had a very good day once he took over. He finished 6-7 for 141 and 2 TDs. He also added 8 rushes for 29 yards and a TD. A couple of passes he threw couldn't have been anymore perfect. The kid can really spin it. He did have the fumble, but I gotta give Troy credit. The guy got his helmet right on the ball. It happens sometimes. Fitz has to protect the ball better in traffic. I'm still not sold on him as an inside runner, as he struggled in the "Dak and short" situations. But he looks really good running to the outside and scrambling on busted plays. And he can make guys miss in the open field. Overall, it's hard not to be excited about his future.
5. Why did we not get more reps for Staley? I'm sure the way Troy held the ball in the second half played a large part, but I was surprised we never saw him in the first half after we pulled Dak. Then by the time he got in, we were in full Stansbury Stall mode on offense. He only got to throw two passes. One was a swing to Dear for a loss, the other was an incompletion to Williams. And on that pass, Staley made the right read, but it took Williams too long running the route, then he didn't break far enough into the middle of the field. Staley threw it in about the only place he could to give Williams a chance to make a play without either throwing a pick or completely overshooting everyone. I just feel like we wasted a golden opportunity to get him some significant live action snaps.
6. The OL continues to do a good job pass blocking and have issues with run blocking. I was glad to see Elgton Jenkins get the start today. He played pretty well, I thought. Hopefully it is a permanent move. I just can't figure out the problem with this OL run blocking, because it isn't a talent issue. Clayborne is Gabe Jackson 2.0 and plays nasty. Justin Malone will at the very least get a shot at the NFL and has a good chance of being drafted late. Justin Senior is really good at RT. Devon Desper has had issues, but he's also had some big games like aTm last season. To me, that means it's mental with these guys. They just aren't nearly as physical as they should be. That's an attitude and Hevesy has to figure out how to change it. Dillon Day and Ben Beckwith might not have been as talented as a couple of these guys, but they brought an attitude and nastiness every time they stepped on the field. Clayborne seems to have that, but it hasn't rubbed off on the rest of the OL for whatever reason.
7. Shump, AKA Concrete Shoes, gonna Shump. Why can't we go to a two back set with him at FB/H? We'd have so many more options. He does everything well except actually run the football. Unfortunately, that's the main job of a RB. Two plays stuck out to me today with him. One was fairly early, although I'm not sure exactly when. A hole opens and Shump gets the ball on the read. He immediately "runs" for the hole, but it closes right as he gets there. What should've been a minimum 4 yard gain wound up stuffed at the LOS because he didn't have the burst to get there. Play two: Fourth quarter, first play with Staley at QB. Staley makes a poor read and gives Shump the ball. Shump runs right into the line for no gain. Simple and Staley's fault, right? Not entirely. The DE crashed too quickly, creating a lane for Shump to cut back for what would have been a big gain. Unfortunately, A) Shump doesn't have the vision to see the cut back and B) doesn't have the quickness to get there if he had seen it. So yeah, Staley screwed up and put Shump in a bad position. No argument at all there. Staley HAS to make the right read. Period. But Shump compounded the problem because of his limitations. And yet somehow, he once aGAIN managed to have the most carries of all our RBs with 6. Unfortunately, he only gained 14 yards and averaged 2.3 YPC. Against Troy. *facepalm*
8. Aeris Williams had just 3 carries and didn't really fare much better than Shump. He had just 9 yards and 3 YPC. But to be fair, the stats don't tell the whole story. He ran right into a run blitz on his first carry for no gain. He got 5 and 4 on his other two carries, including a pretty good cutback on the 5 yard run.
9. Why can't we give Dontavian Lee any touches before the 4th quarter? It's like Mullen is trying to keep him off the field. He was clearly our best RB yesterday, gaining 44 yards on 5 carries, 8.8 YPC, including a long rush of 23. Even if you take away his 23 yard run to end the game, he still had 4 rushes for 21, which is 5 YPC. He's physical and has a burst. It makes no sense that he's supposedly "clearly" 3rd string behind Shump & Williams. Because when he gets it in actual games, he has looked like our best back at just running the football.
10. Donald Gray is good. His TD catch was sick. He just flat took it away from the DB because he wanted it more and wasn't going to let the DB outfight him. And then to have the body control to get a foot down before going out of bounds...wow. Just wow. I have no idea why we can't seem to get him touches in SEC play.
11. Fred Ross continues to be our best WR this season and benefit from all the attention teams are giving Bear.
12. With Gus Walley out for the second week in a row, Justin Johnson got some solid PT. He had some typical freshman inconsistency, but that's to be expected. Nice to see him finally get a catch after being completely shut out since the LSU game. I think he's going to be special before he leaves State.
13. State only ran 48 plays. That's well below the 60 or so we've been running all season. As mentioned above, a lot of that had to do with not being able to get Troy off the field in the second half. We ran just 14 total plays in the second half. Another part of it was all the big plays. I don't want to insinuate the big plays are a bad thing, because they aren't. Love seeing them. It's just an interesting statistical point about how oddly the game played out. But the point I wanted to make is of those 48 plays, we only threw the ball 15 times and completed 10. We rushed it 33 times.
1. Loved the decision to take the ball to start the game. Two plays later, it's 7-0 good guys. That really set the tone for the day. And with the D getting off to such sluggish starts before today, I thought it was a really good call to try to get them an early lead.
2. Another part of the problem with our run game is the lack of creativity. I'm convinced we only use 4 run plays: stretch, zone read, QB draw, QB power. We'll see an occasional HB power, but even that is really more based off the zone read than a true power. Where are the counters and traps? Why aren't we pulling our guards more? Desper and Malone are supposedly much more athletic than Beckwith, which led many of us to think we'd use that to our advantage by pulling them more. Go back and watch our run game from 2009 and 2010. It's night and day different how much more creative we were with our run plays back then. Better yet, someone needs to show Mullen the old film and the current film.
3. I'm really glad we got so much PT for the young guys. They're all crazy athletic and can make a big impact coming down the stretch, if Mullen can find a way to trust them in SEC play - particularly against Bama, Arkansas, and Northern Miss. The only way they'll develop is by playing them. I just hope this decision to play so many guys isn't in effect a return to 1A/1B.
4. Mullen has got to stop being stubborn and make the personnel changes that are so glaringly obvious. Gerri Green, Brandon Bryant, Jamaal Peters, Mark McLaurin, JT Gray, and Cory Thomas all need dramatically expanded roles on D. Green is a freak of nature waiting to explode. Offensively, get Donald Gray touches in SEC play. He's a difference maker. Put Lee at RB and use Holloway as the change of pace guy for about 5 touches a game. And if Mullen is just hellbent on playing Shump, go back to the 2 back sets from '09 & '10 with Shump in the Hanrahan FB/H role. It may not improve the running game dramatically, but it should at least make it serviceable enough to keep the D honest, especially with Dak carrying it 15+ times like he did against aTm.
5. Crowd was solid for an OOC game on a relatively "meh" day in terms of weather. Announced attendance was 60K and change. Don't know if I quite buy that number, but there were probably 55K minimum. We used to struggle getting that many to a big SEC game. DWS has rapidly become a really difficult place to play and that's because of you. Now if we could just get better at being quiet when we're on offense.
6. Absolutely LOVED the grey pants. They were awesome. Especially with the shiny helmets. Really good decision by Adidas. Hope we see them again soon.
I feel like we made some improvements in some areas yesterday, but continued spinning our wheels in others. I know it's the third time I'm saying it, but playing so many of the young guys so much was a big step forward and much needed. Loved seeing Diaz come out with an aggressive, in your face gameplan. Also liked what he said in the postgame about simplifying the D for the young guys by deciding to bring pressure and tell them just go make plays. Hopefully we stick with that philosophy moving forward.
Offensively, we still can't figure out the run game. I won't rehash my points above, but we have got to make some changes - both personnel and coaching. RB and OL. Obviously we were a little bit shackled today without Dak, but we've got to start finding ways to feed Bear more. Move him around, put him in the slot, more screens to him, whatever it takes. But 8-10 touches a game should be the goal. Really liked what I saw from Fitz yesterday. I just wish we'd been more intentional about getting snaps for Staley. That's going to be a big time battle this spring and probably even into the fall - and that's not a bad thing. I'm a little concerned about the offense only putting up 31 on Troy. That said, the game just played out really weird, so it makes it a little harder to evaluate. Especially when your offense is only on the field for 1/3 of the game.
That's how I saw it. Can't wait to hear your opinions. Fire in the hole!