Terrible start but good finish on defense
We're starting to see a theme here with Manny Diaz's defense, the same one we saw in 2010. He gives up points on almost every first drive and makes adjustments once he gets a feel for what the other team wants to run. The problem against A&M was that he played soft coverage with no desire to pressure Kyle Allen out of the gate. We all saw how that worked out, as A&M put up 14 points before you could blink.
However, give Diaz credit where it's due for tightening up and only allowing six points in the second half. The defense certainly wasn't perfect. It was average at best, but the bottom line is they did enough to win the game. Three and outs and special teams mistakes put the defense behind the eight ball time and time again, and they easily could have folded and allowed A&M to score 50 plus. They only gave up 30, and that is supposed to be good enough to beat a team like A&M. But the offense let the team down in this one, which leads me to my next point.
The offense has no identity this season
You can usually get a pretty good gauge on what a team has after five games. And to be quite honest, MSU is the exact opposite of what I thought they would be this year. I thought they would be able to score enough points to hang with any team in the SEC but the defense would struggle. But it's been the exact opposite as the defense is the only reason they were ever in the game in the fourth quarter of either loss to LSU or A&M. In three SEC games, State's offense has only mustered up 19, 17, and 17 points.
That's unacceptable with a fifth year QB and the deepest group of receivers in school history. It will continue unless Mullen figures out what he wants his offense to be and sticks with it. It looked like he had moved on from the days of running Dak, but he went right back to it against the Aggies. While it did work and it was smart to exploit that weakness, the players can't get in a rhythm if there's a completely different game plan every week. If you want to run last year's offense, run it. If you want to go air raid and forget running the QB, do it. Either way, find an identity and stick with it.
Play calling left a lot to be desired
Another big SEC game, and another conservative game plan on offense. Don't get me wrong, I don't put all the blame on the coaches for the loss. The players turned the ball over at inopportune times and didn't execute on a lot of plays that were there for the taking. But Mullen has to take a step back and look in the mirror. Running QB draws and bubble screens on 3rd and long? Oh my, it was bad folks.
I get what he was trying to do, get the ball out of Dak's hands fast to avoid the pass rush from the one and only Myles Garrett. But the bubble screens and quick passes should have been called more on first and second down to set up manageable third down distances. A combination of bad execution and questionable play calling put the offense in 3rd and 8+ all night, and you won't come close to beating a defensive line as good as A&M's with that formula.
Mullen is a great coach and has brought a better offense to MSU than the school has ever seen. But he doesn't loosen the reigns on his players against good defenses, and he doesn't show the creativity that he does against non-conference teams from time to time. Until that changes, a division title is out of the question.
It was good to see Williams and Dear
Ashton Shumpert isn't an SEC running back, and I will beat that drum every week he is on the field. One of his strengths is catching the ball out of the back field but his two drops this year have came at the worst possible times. The two-point try against LSU and the 4th down attempt against A&M were both poorly thrown balls, but this is SEC football, and if the ball touches your hands, you have to man up and make the catch. Mullen seems to be growing tired of Shump's mistakes as well (thank God) and he finally gave other players opportunities to show what they have in the run game.
What a run on that long touchdown by Malik Dear, who also had a decent night at receiver. He looks just like Josh Robinson, and I think he has a very bright future. Aeris Williams may be the best all around back MSU has. He and Dontavian Lee will be really good in time, and while they didn't see a ton of snaps, at least they got more than previous games. Williams fumbling inside the five really killed any chance at a comeback, but that's the only way he will learn is to be in the game to make mistakes. No matter how many times they mess up -- and they will -- all the young running backs are better options than Shumpert.
The best players aren't playing to their potential
It might be a little too early to call Chris Jones a bust, and it might not be. CJ is a junior now and still can't play with any consistency from week to week. Without a blitz, State's lineman couldn't generate any hint of a pass rush against A&M. CJ has been MSU's best lineman when it comes to defending the run, but for a former 5-star defensive end, I expected to see him getting after quarterbacks a lot more. He did it his freshman year. How in the world has he gotten worse?
Then there's De'Runnya Wilson. Bear was excellent in SEC games last year but something is off this year. I don't know if teams are doubling him more or what the problem is, but he isn't the same. He didn't get going until the second half against LSU, and although he had a nice TD grab at Auburn, his last two games have been pretty average. He compounded the problem in this game by coughing the ball up. Until they find a way to get him 6+ catches for 90+ yards in SEC games again, the passing attack will be hampered.
The older guys just aren't getting the job done right now. And when they are depended on greatly on a team full of younger players, that's a major concern for the rest of the season.