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Battle for the Golden Egg Preview: Offense

Evaluating the 2015 Offenses and Related Special Teams

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Peeps, today we close out our Battle for the Golden Egg preview by taking a detailed look at the offenses and related special teams. As we saw yesterday, the defenses are very similar. Likewise, the offenses of both teams are similar. We'll just dive right into the position-by-position evaluation.


State: The Dawgs will start 5th year senior Dak Prescott. Dak has had a monster senior season and passed some huge names in the SEC record books. He is probably one of the 5 best QBs in SEC history and certainly the best QB in MSU history. Dak owns literally every MSU QB record after breaking Derrick Taite's single game passing record last week against Arkansas.

Dak has thrown for 3,159 yards and 23 TDs in 2015, completing 260 of 393 pass attempts with just 3 INTs. He enters the Battle for the Golden averaging 287.2 YPG and completing 66.2% of his pass attempts. As a runner, Dak leads State with 478 yards and 9 rush TDs in 2015. He's averaging 3.8 YPC and 43.5 YPG.

Dak's total offense numbers are absolutely goudy with 3,637 total yards and 32 TDs. He averages 330.6 total YPG. Dak is also 7th nationally in Total QBR with a rating of 83. The only big negative for Dak in 2015 is he has taken 24 sacks, but 9 of those were against Bama. He's only been sacked 15 times in the other 10 games.

Dak will be backed up by Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley. Fitzgerald and Staley are both redshirt freshmen. Fitz has completed 11 of 14 passes this season for 235 yards, 3 TDs, and a 78.6% completion percentage. He's also added 127 rush yards and another 3 TDs on the ground. That's a combined 362 yards of total offense and 6 TDs for Fitz. Staley has made just two appearances in 2015, completing 3 of 5 passes for 51 yards and a TD. He's got another 18 yards rushing, giving him 69 total yards and 1 TD in 2015.

Northern Miss: Chad Kelly will draw the start for the BearSharks. Kelly is a JUCO transfer from East Mississippi Community College in his first season at Northern Miss, but he's putting up big numbers. Kelly has completed 256 of 395 passes for 3,504 yards, 25 TDs, and 12 INTs. He is completing 64.8% of his passes and averaging 318.5 YPG. Kelly has added another 353 rushing yards and 9 rush TDs. He averages 4.1 YPC and 32.1 YPG.

Kelly's total offense comes out to 3,857 total yards and 34 TDs. He averages 350.6 YPG. Kelly is 6th nationally in Total QBR with a rating of 85.1. Kelly has been sacked 16 times this season. The big negative for him is the 12 INTs.

Kelly is backed up by Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincaid. Buchanan has played in all 11 games for Northern Miss, completing 8 of 12 passes for 96 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, and a 66.7% completion percentage.  He has an additional 7 yards on the ground, bringing his total offensive numbers to 103 yards and 2 TDs. Kincaid has appeared in just 3 games, going 9-15 for 79 yards and 1 TD. He's added 87 rushing yards. That makes his total offensive numbers to 166 total yards and 1 TD.

Edge: State - Dak and Kelly have both been superb this season. But Dak has the experience edge and his career numbers put him in rarified air amongst SEC QBs. Plus a game-by-game look shows Kelly has inflated some of his stats by playing deep into garbage time against totally overmatched OOC opponents. But for me, the scale is tipped by the depth. Fitzgerald and Staley are just flat out better than Buchanan and Kincaid.

Running Back:

State: Brandon Holloway is likely to start and receive the majority of snaps at RB, but Ashton Shumpert will definitely see some playing time. Aeris Williams might also see action for the Dawgs.

Holloway leads State's RBs with 69 carries for 317 yards, 4.6 YPC, and 28.8 YPG. Shumpert is next with 54 carries for 201 yards, 3.7 YPC, 1 TD, and 20.1 YPG. Aeris is third with 37 for 167, 4.5 YPC, 2 TDs, and 15.2 YPC.

When it comes to receiving, Holloway again leads the way with 24 catches for 294 yards, 12.2 YPR, 3 TDs and a catch rate of 72.7%. Shump has 13 catches for 117, 9 YPR, and a catch rate of 63.2%. Aeris has just 6 catches for 18 yards, 3 YPR, and a catch rate of 75%.

No one has really separated themselves from the pack. Williams might have the best upside of the three, but he doesn't get enough carries.

Northern Miss: The BearSharks will use Jaylen Walton, Akeem Judd, and Jordan Wilkins. Walton is the primary back, leading the Bears' RBs with 118 carries for 519 yards, 5.1 YPC, 5 TDs, and 59.7 YPG. Judd is a transfer who has come on strong the last few weeks. He has 66 carries for 354, 5.4 YPC, 3 TDs, and 32.2 YPG. Wilkins has 62 carries for 277, 4.5 YPC, 2 TDs, 25.2 YPG.

As a receiver, Walton has 17 catches for 132 yards, 7.8 YPR, and a catch rate of 68%. Judd has 9 catches for 54, 6 YPR, and a catch rate of 90%. Wilkins has added 4 catches for 30, 7.5 YPR, 80%. None have found the land of milk and honey as a receiver.

Edge: Northern Miss - It pains me to say it, but the BearSharks are better at the RB position. Walton and Judd have outproduced both Holloway and Shump. Wilkins has outproduced Shump. Holloway is gold out of the backfield as a receiver, but he isn't very effective toting the rock. State's most talented pure runner, Dontavian Lee, is suffering from Moultrie Knee and apparently isn't likely to see the field in the near future. And Mullen doesn't trust underclassmen, so instead of giving Williams a shot at RB, he keeps trotting out Holloway and Shump to keep making mistakes. Meanwhile, Freeze has unleashed Walton and Judd. Judd may be the best back of their group and is improving every week after the usual transfer adjustment period.

Wide Receiver:

State: The Dawgs will start the trio of De'Runnya "Bear" Wilson, Fred Ross, and Fred Brown. Gabe Myles, Malik Dear, Joe Morrow, and Donald Gray should all see action as well.

Fred Ross has been one of the five best WRs in the SEC this season, corralling 69 catches for 816 yards, 11.8 YPR, 4 TDs, and 74.2 YPG. He has a catch rate of 72.6%. Bear Wilson is also a top 5 SEC WR this season with 50 catches, 757 yards, 15.1 YPR, 9 TDs, and 68.8 YPG. He has a catch rate of just 61.7%.

Fred Brown has put together a solid 2015 campaign with 25 catches for 371, 3 TDs, 14.8 YPR, and 33.7 YPG. His catch rate is 67.6%. Malik Dear has 18 catches for 181, 10.1 YPR, and 19.1 YPG. His catch rate is 72%. But he's also a threat to run the ball out of the backfield and on jet sweeps with 8 carries for 80 yards and a TD. Donald Gray has 16 catches for 328, 2 TDs, 20.5 YPR, and 29.8 YPG. His catch rate is 69.6%. Myles has 11 catches for 179, 2 TDs, 16.3 YPR, and 22.4 YPG. His catch rate is 68.8%. Morrow brings up the rear with 5 catches for 91 yards, 18.2 YPR, 1 TD, 10.1 YPG, and a catch rate of 45.5%. (We don't call him Stone Hands for nothing.)

Worth noting, Myles, Morrow, and Dear have been limited to 8, 9, and 9 games respectively due to injury.

Northern Miss: Laquon Treadwell, Quincy Adeboyejo, and Cody Core will start for the Black Bears. Damore'ea Stringfellow, Markell Pack, and Derrick Jones should all see action too.

Treadwell leads the SEC with 72 catches for 1060 yards, 8 TDs, 14.7 YPR, 96.4 YPG, and a catch rate of 70.2%. Adeboyejo is next for the BearSharks with 35 catches for 545, 7 TDs, 15.6 YPR, 49.5 YPG, and a catch rate of 68.6%. Core is actually fourth on the team with 30 catches for 536, 3 TDs, 17.9 YPR, 48.7 YPG, and a catch rate of 63.8%

Stringfellow is third on the team with 31 catches for 419, 3 TDs, 13.5 YPR, 41.9 YPG, and a catch rate of 59.6%. Pack has 29 catches for 270 yards, 3 TDs, 12.8 YPR, 33.6 YPG, and a catch rate of 78.4%. Jones has just 5 catches but 107 yards, 1 TD, 21.4 YPR, 9.7 YPG, and a catch rate of 71.4%.

The only BearShark WR to miss time is Stringfellow, but he's only missed one game.

Edge: State - This one is really close. Treadwell is the best WR in the SEC. But State has two players in the top 5 themselves. That indicates more depth. The Northern Miss receivers have more big plays, but how many of those were against their terrible OOC schedule? And frankly, the Dawgs do a  much better job of spreading the wealth at WR. Based on depth and overall unit production, I'm taking the Dawgs WR corps.

Tight End:

State: Gus Walley will likely draw the start at TE. But Darrion Hutcherson and Justin Johnson will both see playing time. Walley leads State's TEs with 19 catches for 146 yards, 1 TD, 7.7 YPR, 18.2 YPG, and a catch rate of 76%. But he has missed 3 games this season due to various injuries. Hutcherson is next with 13 grabs for 134, 1 TD, 10.3 YPR, 12.2 YPG, and a catch rate of 81.2%. Johnson has just 5 catches for 41 yards, 1 TD, 8.2 YPR, 4.1 YPG, and a catch rate of 71.4%.

Each of State's TEs is different and creates a different matchup problem. Walley is more of the pure receiving TE. Hutcherson is a size and strength mismatch at 6'7" and 260 pounds. Johnson is closer to a true hybrid TE at 6'3" and 230 pounds, plus he might be the best pure blocker of the group.

Northern Miss: Evan Engram will start at TE for the BearSharks. He'll be backed up by Hunter Thurley. Engram has 30 catches for 325 yards, 2 TDs, 10.8 YPR, 29.5 YPG, and a catch rate of 66.7%. Thurley has just 2 catches for 44 yards and a catch rate of 66.7%.

Engram is a true hybrid TE in the mold of Justin Johnson, as he is also 6'3" and 230. But he isn't as good a blocker as Johnson. Thurley has appeared in all 11 games, so having just 2 receptions suggests he's used almost exclusively as a blocker.

Edge: State - Engram is probably the best TE between the two teams. But once again, the depth advantage goes to State. The Dawgs' TEs have combined for nearly as many yards as Engram and more TDs. Plus all 3 play significant minutes. State has proven it can survive with one TE missing.


State: The Dawgs will start Rufus Warren, Justin Malone, Jamaal Clayborn, Devon Desper, and Justin Senior up front. Elgton Jenkins should see significant PT and could start if A) Justin Senior is still dinged up or B) he gets the nod over Warren. Deion Calhoun should also see a significant amount of snaps for State. The group of 7 averages 306 pounds across the board.

Advanced stats show a very average offensive line. Power Success Rate (PSR) measures the percentage of runs on 3rd and 4th down with 2 or fewer yards to go that result in either a first down or a touchdown. The national average PSR is 66.5%. State's PSR is 77.4%, good for 17th nationally. Basically, the Dawgs are very good in 3rd and 4th down short yardage situations. But then there is Stuff Rate, discussed in yesterday's Defensive Preview. The national average Stuff Rate is 19.5%. MSU has a Stuff Rate of 20.6% on offense, above the national average. That ranks 84th nationally.

State has also given up 24 sacks. As I noted above, that number is a little skewed due to the Bama game. And frankly, not all 24 of those sacks are the fault of the OL. Several have been the result of A) Dak holding the ball too long and/or not getting rid of it or B) terrible play calling. Still, the numbers are troubling. State has a Standard Downs Sack Rate (SDSR) of 5.3%, compared to the national average SDSR of 5%. That puts State 75th nationally in SDSR. Then there is the Passing Downs Sack Rate (PDSR). The national PDSR is 7.6%. State's PDSR is 7.2%. That's better than the average but still places us just 66th nationally.

Northern Miss: The BearSharks will go with Laremy Tunsil, Aaron Morris, Ben Still, Rod Taylor, and Cooper Fahn up front. Justin Bell, Javon Patterson, Sean Rawlings, and Sims Jordan could also all see some action this weekend. The BearShark starting 5 averages 305 pounds across the board.

Advanced stats show the Northern Miss OL to be below average. The BearShark OL has a PSR of 40.4%. That is dead last nationally at 128. Their Stuff Rate is nearly as bad at 21.4%, placing them 90th nationally. Basically, the BearShark OL can't get any push whatsoever in short yardage situations and get their RBs stuffed too much.

The BearShark OL has given up 17 total sacks. Northern Miss has a solid SDSR of 2.5%, which is 24th nationally. But their PDSR is 7.8%, which is 74th nationally. Basically, the BearShark OL is fine as long as the offense stays "on schedule." But they really struggle to protect in obvious passing situations.

Edge: State - Once again, this is closer than you'd think. Neither team's OL is very good and have little depth. But State is better in short yardage situations and slightly better in obvious passing downs. Not good, but better than the opponent. Being able to protect Dak and convert short yardage situations are two huge keys.


State: Dan Mullen is his own OC and runs a spread attack. State will generally operate from a base 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB set. But you'll also see 4 WR, 5 WR, 2 TE, 2 RB, even some empty with a RB split out wide. State will use Dak and the RBs in a read option scheme, but short yardage situations will almost certainly be either the Dak Power or Dak Draw. Since the Dawgs' WRs excel at blocking, don't be surprised to see the screen game used as a substitute for running the ball traditionally, especially with a healthy Gabe Myles back in action.

Northern Miss: Hugh Freeze is also his own OC and runs a spread attack. The Black Bears will look very similar to State in terms of the sets they use. They love the screen game as an extended handoff play. One thing they do better is attack the field vertically. They also excel at force feeding their best player, Treadwell, the football.

Edge: Push - Both teams run a similar scheme in 2015 and both HCs call the plays for their team. Each has his own strengths and weaknesses that are well documented. For instance, Freeze is better at stretching the field vertically but Mullen is better at creating ways to run the football. I'd take Mullen just due to having more experience in this game and these situations.

Punt Return:

State: Fred Ross has returned 14 punts for 145 yards and 1 TD. He's averaging 10.1 YPR. He has 21 fair catches and 2 fumbles with 2 lost.

Northern Miss: Carlos Davis began the year returning punts for the BearSharks but he had fumble problems. He has been replaced by Collins Moore. Moore has 11 returns for just 21 yards, averaging a paltry 1.9 YPR. He's had 9 fair catches and 0 fumbles.

Davis had 13 returns for 75 yards, 5.8 YPR. He had 9 fair catches with 4 fumbles and 2 lost.

Edge: State - This one isn't close. Ross has a better return average and more yards than both of the Northern Miss PR guys combined. In fact, he's got nearly 50 more yards. And he also has a score to his credit.

Kickoff Return:

State: The Dawgs will use Brandon Holloway and Malik Dear on KOR. Gabe Myles or Donald Gray could also get a shot, but that isn't likely. Holloway has 19 returns for 462 yards, 24.3 YPR, 1 TD, 1 fumble and 1 lost. Dear has 5 returns for 99 yards and 19.8 YPR. He had a TD called back against LA Tech on a penalty well away from the play.

Northern Miss: The BearSharks will use Jaylen Walton and Carlos Davis on KOR. Walton has 22 returns for 389 yards, 17.7 YPR, 2 fumbles, and 1 lost. Davis has 3 returns for 39 yards and 13.3 YPR.

Edge: State - Again, not close. Holloway and Dear have more yards, a better average per return, and a score. They also have fewer fumbles.


State: Westin Graves will handle the kicking duties for the Dawgs. He's been rock solid in 2015 making 12 of 15 field goals and 43 of 44 PATs. That's an 80% conversion rate.

Northern Miss: Gary Wunderlich handles the kicking chores for the BearSharks. He's been absolutely great this season, hitting 16 of 19 FGs and all 52 PATs. He's got an 84.2% conversion rate.

Edge: Northern Miss - Wunderlich has been just a little better than Graves. Each have missed 3 FGs, but Wunderlich is perfect with his PAT attempts. And he seems to have a stronger leg than Graves.

WMD's Thoughts:

These two offenses are almost a completely even match. Neither team runs it that well and both teams throw it extremely well. The big difference is Dak does a much better job of protecting the football. It appears Kelly can be rattled with pressure and forced into making some bad throws. Both QBs are capable of hurting you with their feet, albeit in different ways. Kelly tends to do more of his damage on busted play scrambles while Dak is more involved with designed run plays. State is definitely better in short yardage situations. Both groups of WRs are elite. One thing that stuck out to me was Bear Wilson's catch rate. With all the talk of him going pro, it seems to me he'd be better served coming back one more season to work on his hands. Treadwell is a beast for Northern Miss, but he seems to be a crutch for Kelly, as he more than doubles the next closest guy in receptions. Both teams use a scatback as their "feature back" even though there are others behind them who may be a better fit.

Bottom line, this should be a great, great game. These teams are about as evenly matched as we've seen in years. State seems to have a slight edge, but I'd be nervous if the game comes down to a Northern Miss FG attempt. The home team has absolutely dominated the series over the last 15 years, with each team winning just once on the road. Don't be surprised if Dak absolutely goes off in his final game as a Bulldog against a very suspect BearShark secondary.

Hail State,