If Dan Mullen had called the game of his life, he still would have lost to Alabama on Saturday. Let's get that out of the way first. The purpose of this article isn't to blame the loss on Mullen, because it wouldn't have mattered. However, I do think it's time to look at the big picture and evaluate his evolvement as an offensive play caller.
Every coach at an SEC or high level football program that handles play calling duties receives criticism at some point in their career. Mullen has been no stranger to it, but overall you have to be satisfied with the how he's managed his offense since he's been in Starkville.
With that being said, I think he has clearly regressed this season when it comes to calling the offense. MSU's lack of a run game is definitely a big reason for that. I mean, you can only call so many plays much when you're limited in the run game. But the biggest criticism I would throw at him is an inability to mix things up and break tendencies.
Because of that unwillingness to get away from what has worked in previous games, his play calling couldn't possibly be any more predictable than it is right now.
Take for example the 4th and goal call in the first quarter against Bama. Of all the plays he could draw up, which one do you think Saban had his boys most prepared to shut down in that situation? You guessed it, Dak up the middle.
The whole stadium knew it was coming. Why? Because every 4th down and short the last two seasons has been Dak up the middle. Against two coaches as smart as Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, you have zero chance at beating them if you can't break tendencies and get away from what you've typically done in the past.
What baffles me and the question I want to ask is how many failed attempts does it take to realize something just isn't going to work? Bama stuffed that play more often than not last season and they were stuffing it Saturday. But Mullen had to keep trying it because it has been successful against other teams.
Boos filled the stadium at one point because everybody was so fed up. You can't really blame them. At some point, the Dak up the middle play call has to be thrown out the window against these better defenses.
I don't understand why he doesn't run more read option like he did when Chris Relf was at the helm. That was the most dangerous play in MSU's offense those days and it has been abandoned for straight QB draws up the middle. Everybody expects it, and any defensive coach with half a brain can game plan to stop it.
Mullen's play calling in the red zone against these better defenses also leaves a lot to be desired.
Bama was prepared for the QB runs and slants to Bear, and they also took away the tight ends over the middle. Facing a defense like that is tough with not much field to work with, but Mullen made no attempt to mix things up.
Overall it was a bad game plan all the way around. It makes no sense why MSU didn't come out of the gate throwing quick passes and continue that the whole game. When your o line is that outmatched, you can't call plays that force your quarterback to hold the ball and wait on receivers to get 15+ yards down the field.
To be fair, it's tough to call a game when your team is outmatched as badly as it was on Saturday on the offensive line. But that gap could have been closed with better scheming on Mullen's part.
As far as creativity goes, the 2009/2010 Dan Mullen was a much better play caller than we're seeing right now. Unless he does some soul searching and returns to his creative ways, MSU will continue to be a team that beats the good/average opponents but loses to the great ones.
Don't be one of those ridiculous fools that calls for the guy to get fired, but at this point you certainly have every right to call him out for his play calls in big games. It's more than justified.