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Will Mullen Stay Away From QB Runs on Third Down?

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How often has Mullen called a QB draw on third down so far this year?

Throughout most of his career at MSU, Mullen has had a tendency on third down to call some form of a QB run.  We saw the play work several times early in the year in 2014, especially against South Alabama.  However, the play is much more effective against teams that don't tackle well.  By the Alabama game last year, Saban had seen enough film to expect some QB runs on third down, and the play wasn't very effective.  During the LSU game last Saturday, I heard some people complain about how Mullen has predictably ran the Dak Attack on third down, so I looked up all of MSU's third downs this year.

Mullen doesn't typically call the QB draw on third down if MSU needs more than ten yards, but I listed all of the third down plays.  There were 13 third downs in the Southern Miss game, and the following happened:

Yards Needed Playcall/Result
6 44 yard pass to Fred Ross
17 Incomplete pass to Fred Ross
10 12 yard pass to Justin Johnson
6 4 yard pass to Ashton Shumpert
11 Sack, fourth down
2 2 yard run by Dak Prescott
4 TD pass to Gus Walley
4 Incomplete pass,
12 18 yard pass to Joe Morrow
4 12 yard pass to Ashton Shumpert
5 Incomplete pass
11 13 yard pass
7 Incomplete pass to Fred Brown

In the last drive, Nick Fitzgerald had a 15 yard run on 3rd and 2.

Against Southern Mississippi, the QB runs were not excessive.  MSU passed on most of their third downs.  The LSU game was much more competitive, so the playcalling in that one is more important.

Against LSU in the first half:

7 Prescott 3 yard run
4 Prescott 0 yard run
13 Sack
6 Incomplete pass to Wilson
10 Prescott throws the ball away
7 3 yard pass to Holloway
10 Incomplete pass to Holloway

On the first third down, Prescott ran a dive and the linemen created a hole for him, but LSU's linebackers anticipated the run well and stopped him four yards in front of the first down marker.  On the second third down, the play was a read option.  Prescott faked it to Shumpert, and no one on LSU's defense fell for the fake, so Prescott was stopped at the line of scrimmage.  After that, the rest of the third down attempts were passes.  Mullen could tell that LSU was looking out any QB run on third down, and abandoned it for the rest of the half.

Second half

8 10 yard pass to Wilson
6 Incomplete to Wilson
5 Incomplete, thrown away
1 1 yard gain, first down
9 8 yard pass to Ross
4th and 1 Prescott 2 yard run
6 Sack
4 11 yard pass to Walley

On the last third down of the game, very bad things started to happen, and none of them involved a Prescott running play.

Out of eight third down plays and a fourth and short that Mullen went for, we saw two QB runs.  On the first one, Mullen had called several pass attempts on third downs before it.  The defense was looking for it, but was concerned enough with the pass that Prescott was able to get the one yard he needed.  On the fourth down play, the offensive line made a good push to where Prescott easily got the first down.

Based on the playcalling in both games, Mullen isn't running the ball with Prescott on third down very much.  He wanted to run it with Prescott because he did it early in the game on a couple of third downs, but when it was evident that LSU was prepared for the QB run, he abandoned it.  Mullen still let Prescott run the ball on a third and fourth down later in the game, but both of those situations were very short yardage plays, and the passing attack had been established at that point.  Since a runningback hasn't emerged (Holloway is a good one, but isn't going to run 20 times a game) as a big enough running threat to take some attention off Prescott, Mullen is forced to pass more often than he normally would.  The current group of wide receivers is arguably the best Mullen has had at MSU.  As a result, Mullen may quit using the QB run as much as he did last year.