Peeps, State gets a slight break this week when Northwestern State comes to Starkville. Normally I'd try to at least fake some keys, but let's be honest: As long as the Dawgs show up, they'll win. With that in mind, I thought I'd forego the idea of "Keys to Victory" and tell you what I'd like to see in this game.
1. Run Practice: The Dawgs need to make the NWST game run practice. If it were up to me, we'd run the ball 80% of the time tomorrow. State's OL was exposed as being a bit deficient in the run blocking department against LSU and lacking some of the physicality needed. People who I trust that have observed practice all say the same thing: This should be the most athletic, physical OL we've had under Mullen to date. That means, to me, something isn't transferring from practice to the games. It's time to commit to running the football, and that needs to start Saturday. Run the ball over and over and over and over and over. Force the OL to step up and be physical.
2. RB Tryouts: We've seen enough of Ashton Shumpert the last two seasons to know he isn't the answer at RB. He's a fullback trying to play RB. Time to give the ball to Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams. We've got to figure out if one, or both, of them can get the job done. Last time I checked, the position is called "running back" not "blocking back" or "catching the ball out of the backfield back" or "pass protection back." Shump does those things extremely well, but he just doesn't have the tools to get it done running the ball, which is the main job of the position. Lee & Williams need to carry it early and often Saturday. Whoever has the best day should start at Auburn.
3. Fresh Blood: I want to see us go all in with our young guys, not just at RB. It's a shame that guys like Zach Jackson, Deontay Evans, and Tolando Cleveland are getting significant snaps. We've heard players and coaches alike rave about some of the young guys, but they've barely played. Time to get them on the field. Gerri Green, Dez Harris, Mark McLaurin, and Jamaal Peters all need vastly expanded roles. And we need to get a look at Maurice Smitherman and Smokey Graham at CB. Talent will win out over the course of the season if they're getting regular snaps. And where the heck is Donald Gray on offense? You don't go get a JUCO guy like that if he can't contribute. Let's see him on KR and PR, at the very least. Gabe Myles needs more touches, too. I know the coaches are at practice and see these guys every day, but the talk isn't matching who's playing. Why can other schools get players on the field early and we can't? That's coaching, pure and simple.
4. Physicality: I want to see us impose our will on NWST. The Dawgs need to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I want to see the D arrive at the ball carrier with a bad attitude (but still wrap up and stay fundamentally sound).
WMD's Thoughts: I don't care if we only win by 3, if we do the things above then the NWST game is a success. If we don't, we wasted a chance to improve our team heading into what is now an absolute "must win" game at Auburn. We've got a golden opportunity with a vastly outmatched opponent to make some significant changes. If we let it pass by trying to force the status quo, we'll finish about 7-5. Time for Mullen and the staff to look themselves in the mirror, remove collective heads from collective rectums, and get this team fixed. Force the OL to step up and be physical, find a running back capable of gaining more than 3 YPC, and get our young but crazy talented players on the field.
In Mullen We Trust,