Peeps, sorry for the delay getting this out. 8 PM starts completely wreck our posting schedule. I didn't make it home until 3 AM and frankly just didn't have time to get this written and posted in a timely manner. So I just waited to write this early Sunday night and have it release this morning. Now, what a heartbreaker of a game. And as usual in the last 25 years, LSU came out on top. I don't know what it is about playing us that makes them so dominant. Did you know the last time we beat them in consecutive seasons was 1990-91? That's just insane. Time to ask: What did we learn? Here's what I saw:
1. All of us, myself included, are going to have to get used to ignoring certain stats with Manny Diaz back in charge as DC. We're going to give up some yards, but we're also going to create more negative plays and turnovers. It's a tradeoff. So with that in mind, the State D had 6 TFLs. That's very good.
2. The D was atrocious in the first quarter. I don't know why we started so slowly, but that can't happen in SEC play if you want to win on a regular basis. After that, we settled in and played pretty well. But man, that first quarter was the killer.
3. The defensive holding call on LSU's second possession was terrible. You just can't do that. I never heard a number, so I don't know who it was. But you had just gotten a third down stop and maybe forced them into a long FG attempt. Instead, automatic first down and LSU proceeds to march right on in for the go ahead TD.
4. Tackling wasn't very good aGAIN. You can't arm tackle Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams if you want to actually get them on the ground. They'll run right through them and that's exactly what happened. You've got to hit them with intent and wrap up. I don't know if it's a product of the new Hawk tackling technique we're teaching or what, but it's a problem. Fix it yesterday.
5. Our starting DL are grown men. Ryan Brown, Chris Jones, Nick James, and AJ Jefferson all had big plays. James caught Fournette from behind twice to prevent a couple of really long runs and totally blew up LSU's reverse call by forcing his guy deep into the backfield.
6. Our LBs are solid, but they miss too many tackles. And why is Zach Jackson getting so many reps? He just isn't an SEC player, especially against ultra-physical teams like LSU. I'd have expected to see more of Gerri Green and Dez Harris.
7. We had some busted assignments in the secondary for the second week in a row. That has to stop. Thankfully, they wound up being brought back by LSU penalties, but it doesn't change the problem. Those guys better start communicating and making sure they're all on the same page.
8. We lost contain on Brandon Harris too often. The option runs hurt, but we could've absorbed them. The killers were when he scrambled for first downs. Very reminiscent of the problems we had stopping Blake Sims last season. You know LSU isn't going to throw much, so you absolutely can't lose Harris in those situations.
9. Brandon Bryant played more this week, and that is a good thing. He's clearly got some skills and can help this team over the course of the season.
10. Kendrick Market looked good last night. He finished second on the team with 9 tackles. He excels in run support, so a one dimensional LSU offense was a perfect matchup for him. Still, good to see he is still able to make those plays just 9 months removed from an Achilles' injury.
11. Why does Deontay Evans play? He is terrible. We'd be much better off giving his reps to Bryant, Jamaal Peters, and Mark McLaurin. At least those guys have the physical skills to develop over the course of the season with game reps.
12. Tolando Cleveland just isn't very good. He got beat a couple of times again last night, then compounded the problem by being one of the main culprits for missed tackles. He, Jackson, and Cleveland are co-captains of the "Why are they even playing?!" squad.
13. LSU manhandled us up front at times, despite how well our DL played at times. You can't give up 250+ yards rushing in the SEC and win very often. Now to be fair, we aren't playing against Fournette every week, either.
1. Overall, much better effort here. No huge miscues, but a couple that should be concerning.
2. When did Logan Cooke become McShank? His two shanks in the first quarter, wind or not, led directly to LSU putting us into a 14-0 hole that was too deep to climb out. He's got to be better than that, because we all know he is. It was a really bad night to have a bad night for him. But I'll chalk it up as a fluke unless it happens again.
3. Fred Ross was maybe one block away from a punt return TD. But is anyone else nervous every time he goes to field the punt? I know I am. And while the return he made was good, his decision on the first LSU punt to not call the fair catch and field the ball, but let it hit and roll cost us 10+ yards of field position. We were pinned extremely deep, then have one of Cooke's shanks. You have got to come up and field the ball. Another key play that led to LSU grabbing the early lead.
4. Westin Graves just flat gets it done at kicker. He doesn't have the biggest leg, although it's been big enough so far. But he's really accurate and seems to have ice water in his veins. That's huge for a K. He was one of the biggest bright spots of the game, so far as I'm concerned.
5. Maybe it makes me a pessimist or jerk, but I never expected Devon Bell to make the 52 yard FG at the end. I hoped he would, but there's a big difference in hoping and actually believing. We've discussed it here ad nauseum, but it bears repeating: Million dollar leg, ten cent head. To be fair anything over 45 is a crapshoot, but Bell has never shown any signs of being clutch mentally to make that type of kick. And let's just talk about the elephant in the room: Do we use Graves if we don't get the delay of game? My gut says no, but only Mullen can answer that. It appears that Graves is the guy from 45 and in, Bell from 45+.
1. Might as well get the biggest elephant in the room out of the way right out of the gate: Our OL is not very good right now. The only guy who's played well so far is Jamaal Clayborn. The left side in particular was bad last night. Justin Malone, the guy who's supposed to be our best OL, got knocked flat on his butt on one play Saturday night. Rufus Warren is still adjusting, but he needs to figure it out in a big hurry.
What concerns me is how soft we are up front. There is NO reason for that. And it really, really pisses me off, because for me, soft is just about the worst thing I can say about a football player or team. But there is no other word for what I saw from our OL. They got pushed around all night. The worst part is they couldn't create anything resembling a hole for our run game, leading us to totally abandon it in the second half. And yes, Ashton Shumpert running the ball does them no favors, but I'll get to him in a few moments. But this group, from everything I've heard from people who's football opinions I value and trust, should be more athletic and more physical than last year's group. Yet so far, they haven't shown me any signs of that. I don't know why, but something isn't transferring over from practice to games. If we don't figure out what and get it fixed, it's going to be a LONG season.
Now with all of that said, the OL actually pass blocks pretty well. The problem is they need a little help. We need to scrap the empty/5 WR set. The OL just isn't good enough right now to handle it. Every time we did it, LSU's DL had a race to see who could make it to Dak first. But for the most part, they held up really well in the pass blocking department. That tells me the athleticism is there, so it's a mental or intensity thing with the inability to run block.
2. Speaking of Ashton Shumpert, can we please stop giving him so many carries? He had 10 for 30 yards, just 3.0 YPC. If it weren't for a fluke 19 yard run on his final carry against USM last week, he'd be averaging 3 YPC for the season so far. That isn't going to cut it in the SEC. Then he dropped the two point conversion to tie it up. Granted, it wasn't a great throw, but he had it in his hands and didn't hang on. That's on him, not Dak.
Frankly, Shump is a fullback, not a running back. He does all the little things extremely well - pass blocking, lead blocking for Dak, catching out of the backfield, etc. And he's a battering ram in short yardage situations. But he lacks the vision to find the few holes our OL actually is opening right now, doesn't have the burst to get to the fewer he actually does see, and doesn't really create his own hole despite being very physical. That all screams "fullback" for me. Regardless of all the little things that go into being a RB, the primary job is still toting the rock. And that is where Shump just isn't very good. We can find a role for him, but it's time to start looking for another answer at RB.
3. For the second week in a row, Brandon Holloway looked like our best RB. He only had 5 carries, but he made all of them count, gaining 37 yards and averaging 7.4 YPC. Do I want him to be our feature back? Absolutely not. But it's a problem when he is showing up "the guy" in Shumpert.
4. Why are we not giving chances to Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams? First, we need the depth. We're only one play away from one or both of them having to carry the load. Second, RB should be the easiest position on the field to play, play early, and play well. Every year you have multiple true and redshirt freshmen step up and be big factors running the ball. But for some reason, we're leaving these two guys on the bench. Williams had one carry and lost 5 yards because the OL got absolutely boat raced. Lee caught a swing pass and gained 4 yards. Never saw either of them again. With Shump struggling, they need to be getting chances.
5. Dak had a monster game throwing the football and was ON FIRE in the second half. He finished 34 of 52 for 335, 1 TD, and a 65.3% completions. He was 23-32 in the second half for 71% completions. The problem is he couldn't use his legs. Part of that is the way we called the game offensively and part of it is Dak himself. The OL not being able to open holes hurts Dak, but he had a couple of opportunities to pull the ball down and scramble for big yards and didn't do it. He's GOT to take those opportunities, because that is where he's most dangerous. Dak finishing with negative yardage rushing is completely unacceptable. And don't even get me started on him taking the delay of game penalty. Completely ridiculous.
6. WRs were good but not great last night. They made some big plays down the stretch after we abandoned the run, but they weren't getting separation, especially in the first half. LSU went man and we couldn't shake free. This group of WRs is supposed to be elite, but they weren't in this game.
7. Once again, we struggled getting Bear Wilson involved in the passing game. His first catch didn't come until the late second quarter. That can't happen. We gotta feed him early and often. His TD catch was a spectacular display of toughness and concentration.
8. Fred Ross had a big night receiving. He was one broken tackle away from a TD, but the LSU guy just managed to trip him up, or else Ross would still be running.
9. Career night for Gus Walley. He was a big factor in the passing game. Love seeing us get the TE involved.
10. While we're talking about the TE position, I want to see more of Justin Johnson. I know Walley has been good in the passing game so far, but he's a weakness blocking. But more than that, I think JJ has a chance to be special. He just needs work. Only getting him one touch is ridiculous. He needs to be getting 3-5 catches a game minimum right now.
1. If we can't figure out how to fix the OL and run the ball, it's going to be a LONG season. One dimensional teams, especially finesse passing teams, don't win in the SEC. It's time for John Hevesy and Mullen to kick some butts and make some changes up front. There has to be an attitude change on the OL where they decide they want to be nasty and whip the man across from them. Right now, they don't want to do that. The physical talent is there.
2. Elephant in the room, part III: Our clock management at the end of the game was atrocious. We managed to kill 2+ minutes, take a delay of game, and STILL finish with one timeout left. I know Mullen took the blame for the delay of game, but that was him protecting Dak. Mullen could have called the TO, but the play clock is usually the responsibility of the QB. Who knows what difference those 5 yards might have made.
3. Leonard Fournette is a beast. I don't know if he or Nick Chubb is the best back in the nation, but it's one of them. What I DO know is both of them could put on the pads and play in the NFL right now. But they both have to come back to school one more year. Unreal.
4. I thought we lost the game on our next to last drive. We were moving the ball and looking like we were going to score. Mullen inexplicably goes empty on 3rd down around the 35 or 40. Predictably, there's an LSU jailbreak up front and Dak is forced to just throw the ball away. Drive over, momentum back to LSU, ball back to LSU. I didn't see it, but one of my buddies sent me a text saying that Justin Senior watched about 3 LSU players run right by him and didn't touch any of them. As he said "Just...choose a hat and go block it." Nail on the head and I can't said it any better.
5. We're still seeing enough of the upperclassman loyalty from Mullen to drive us nuts. I've already discussed Shump, Jackson, Evans, and Cleveland, so I won't rehash. But that garbage has to stop. Not only is it hurting us on the field, it will be used against us in recruiting. High profile guys like Peters, Williams, McLaurin, etc. don't come to redshirt or waste away on STs for 1-2 years. They come to play football. And where the heck is Donald Gray? Get them on the field!
6. I can't believe I'm saying this, and it makes me simultaneously angry and nauseous that I have to, but abandoning the run in the second half was the right decision. We clearly weren't going to run it, so go all in on the passing. The problem I had was not doing it sooner and continuing to use the empty set. We should've started using the screen game earlier to force LSU's D to run laterally. Where is Gabe Myles, for instance?
7. Whoever was selecting the music did a killer job......until "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'n' Roses played. What. The. Hell. Did you not notice we were playing LSU? Great song, wrong opponent to use it against.
8. Allow me a moment to address a tough, sensitive topic. MSU removing the ROTC Color Guard and their display of the flags is complete garbage. And the administration's excuse that removing it improves the flow of pre-game is utterly ridiculous. We found time to play a crappy intro video for band. We find time to sponsor everything under the sun, including the maroon and white cheer - which has TOTALLY killed it. But you're asking me to believe the ROTC is screwing up pre-game and making it too long? Horseshit. Quite frankly, our administration doesn't want to display the State of Mississippi flag. They're just using the "flow of pre-game" line as an excuse. Don't expect me to sit back and not call them out on it. If they want to make that decision, then fine, but they need to have to guts to say that is what they're doing and take the heat that will come with it. Otherwise, they're cowards trying to make a political statement they know many of their fans won't agree with making. So either reinstate the Color Guard or admit what you're doing, President Keenum. Now I'll get off my soapbox.
We're still in the fight, as the only SEC West team I've seen without a huge flaw so far is Bama. Everyone else, including us, has at least one major issue, whether it's QB, running the ball, defense or what have you. If we can fix the OL and run game, there's no reason we can't be a factor. I want to see us come out determined to run the ball against Northwestern State next Saturday. Time to force the OL to step up and be physical. If it takes 3 quarters for them to figure it out, so be it. But I want to see us finish the game with a minimum of 40 rush attempts. And if we only win 14-7, I'm ok with it. But we have got to work on the running game during an actual game and a scrub opponent is the best time for it. We need to start seeing some fresh blood more involved, too. Guys like Green, Harris, Peters, McLaurin, Lee, Williams, Johnson, etc. need to see expanded roles. Major props to the crowd last night. It was a hard game to stay dialed into with LSU running the ball down our throats, not to mention another crazy late start, but somehow you did it. DWS was absolutely electric in the 4th quarter, from the moment "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey hit all the way until Bell's kick went wide right. It was an amazing environment to be part of, and best of all, we continue to do really well with respecting the bell. Now if we could just kill all the ads and sponsorships.
In Mullen We Trust,