Peeps, it's always hard to evaluate a game like that. The opponent is so overmatched it's basically not fair. But that's exactly what I'm going to attempt to do. Without any more preamble, here's what I saw:
1. Tackling is still a MAJOR issue. This new Hawk Tackling garbage we're teaching has to go. When a D-II team is making you look stupid, it's you - not them. We've got to wrap up and get guys on the ground or it's going to be a LONG season on D. Point blank period.
2. Stats were much better today, but they're supposed to be. What worried me is how NW ST gashed us running the ball, especially on that first drive of the 3rd quarter. And that was against our first string D. Allowing an 8+ minute drive by a D-II team is completely inexcusable.
3. The above is why I was skeptical of bringing back Diaz. We aren't better in key areas. Safety play is improved, but our tackling and run D have regressed. And I didn't think it was possible for our tackling to regress much more. Also, for a guy known for defenses that create negative plays and turnovers, we're lacking in both areas. We haven't forced a turnover in two games now.
4. We've got to get better on the edges. We overran a few plays because we were faster than NW ST, but it's still a problem. Don't think Auburn and Malzahn won't find a way to exploit that.
5. Kivon Coman had a good day and led the team in tackles.
6. Every snap that Zach Jackson and Deontay Evans get is a crime. They just aren't SEC talents and need to make way for younger, more talented players.
7. Speaking of younger, more talented players it was nice to see Brandon Bryant, Mark McLaurin, and Jamaal Peters not just get extended PT, but make plays when they were in the game. Bryant is really active and always seems to be around the ball. McLaurin made some nice plays, but the one that sticks out to me was in the late 3rd or early 4th quarter when NW ST had a guy coming across the middle. McLaurin lays the wood to him and forces an incompletion. Peters played well too. The play that impressed me for him was being brought on a safety blitz from up high, engages an OL, shed the block, got outside and managed to get in on the tackle. He ran a LONG way on that play and did it quickly. Also saw him make a couple of nice open field tackles.
8. Gerri Green needs to be on the field. The kid is a player. Every time he was in he was around the ball and making a play. I saw him shoot the gap in the 4th quarter to blow up a play for a loss. He's big, fast, and physical.
9. Still need to work on our DL depth. Why is Torrey Dale our 2nd string DT over Cory Thomas? It's awful.
1. Another game, more ST errors. First PAT attempt of the game and we bobble the snap. Then we tried to compound the error by throwing a wild no look pass that probably should have gone the other way for 2.
2. Fred Ross breaks a nice return......then gets JACKED UP and coughs up the fumble. To be fair, looked like a great hit with the helmet getting the ball. But this isn't exactly Ross's first PR screw up this season. And we're just three games into it. Might be time to look at other options.
3. Liked what I saw from Gabe Myles in the return game. Might want to give him some more chances.
4. Good to see us kicking the ball into the endzone today. Hopefully we keep it up.
5. Logan Cooke's lone punt of the day was solid. 44 yards with good hang time. Thankfully, he was the least busy player on the field.
1. Offense got off to a fast start. Good to see them punch in the early TD and get it going after the sluggish starts the last two weeks.
2. Passing game was razor sharp all day. Only two incompletions for the game, one each by Dak and Staley. Dak's came when he had to get rid of the ball on a swing pass a little early due to pressure and Staley's was a miscommunication. Staley threw a quick hitch and Jesse Jackson ran a go. Don't know who was wrong, but they clearly weren't on the same page.
3. Nice to see the early emphasis on the running game. The Dawgs came out and ran it 4 straight plays before attempting a pass. Then Dak hits the big play to Gabe Myles for the quick TD strike. Next drive, we keep pounding the rock on the ground, running on 7 straight plays.
4. State wound up with just 55 total offensive plays, well under our average. But the good news is we rushed 37 of those 55 plays and threw it just 18 times. That's a 67/33 run/pass ratio. Exactly what I like to see and what we need moving forward.
5. The Dawgs really spread the ball around in the passing game. Only 3 players - Donald Gray, Gabe Myles, and Malik Dear - had multiple catches, while 10 different players caught a pass.
6. It was really good to see Dak run the ball. Our offense is built around the threat of the QB run. You saw the difference that makes today.
7. Unsurprisingly, Ashton Shumpert had a nice day running the ball. He had 9 carries for 55 and averaged 6.1 YPC. But it was more of what he's always done. He looks great against teams that have no answer for how physical he is. But he still didn't display any burst, has poor vision, and gets himself off-balance. But somehow today will prove to Mullen he's capable of being an SEC feature.
8. I thought Aeris Williams looked pretty decent., He's more of a slasher and is physical. And I think he's got better vision than Shump. But I didn't see much of a burst from him, either. That said, I think his slashing, one cut style is a better fit for our offense than Shump's straight ahead battering ram before tripping himself.
9. I know it was late in the game, but I really liked what I saw from Dontavian Lee carrying the rock. He's got a burst and is hard to bring down. I think he's the most complete back just rushing the ball. And on his very first play in the game, he made a very nice block in pass pro on a blitzing LB from the outside that gave Dak time to hit Fred Brown. He finished the day as the leading rusher with 57 yards on 5 carries and 11.4 YPC.
10. Donald Gray is WMD's player of the game. He was one of the players I specifically mentioned needing more PT in this week's Keys to Victory. And man, did he deliver. 4 catches, 140 yards, 1 TD. His catch when he drew the interference penalty was unreal. Need to use him more going forward.
11. If it weren't for Gray's monster day, I'd have to go with Gabe Myles. He had a big game himself and was another of the guys I mentioned as needing more opportunities. He rushed for a TD and caught a TD. He's a big, big all-purpose threat.
12. Malik Dear is going to be really good and needs more touches. He does special things with the ball in his hands. Wouldn't mind seeing him get Holloway's scatback touches, although Holloway has been very good so far. I just really like Dear's upside.
13. Both of the young QBs looked great. I thought Mullen made a good point postgame about how both were calm out there and looked in control. Fitz showed what I've been saying: He's more of a speedy outside runner. And he threw an absolute rope to Gray for his TD. But I thought Staley looked just as good. His TD pass to Morrow was perfect. And it wasn't an easy throw. It was one of those long touch passes that easy to overthrow, but Staley dropped it right into the bucket and Morrow never had to break stride. Best of all, he anticipated Morrow being open and where he'd be and threw it before Morrow broke open. Just a really, really nice play. And he showed a glimpse of the physical power runner he'll be on his lone carry.
1. I wanted run practice, and we got it. Still wish it had been emphasized more, but it's hard to complain when we ran on 67% of our offensive plays.
2. Also great to see us get the fresh blood involved. McLaurin, Peters, Gray, Lee, etc. showed why they need to be in the game. This seniority garbage of Mullen's is getting old. Get the best guys on the field, even if they're freshman.
3. I thought Mullen got a little too cute after we scored our third TD. We'd been running the ball down their throat, so of course we come out and call two pass plays in a row on the next possession. Dak hit Fred Brown for the big gain, but then the OL got beat and Dak fumbles.
4. Count me out on Manny Diaz being the answer at DC. Our tackling is terrible and the run D has regressed. No excuse for a D-II team to run more plays from scrimmage than us and have the ball nearly 40 minutes. Get it fixed or get gone, I say. Dole out the cash for Yaw Yaw at the end of the season.
5. Pretty solid crowd considering the opponent. Don't blame anyone for jetting at halftime with the game at hand. It was hot as hell, so getting into the shade or going to watch competitive games is a hard temptation to resist.
6. Dak became our all-time leading passer. That was his 21st school record.
7. Speaking of school records, yesterday's 647 yards of total offense was a new record. Like I said, offense, especially passing, was razor sharp all day.
8. MAJOR props to whoever thought of a Y2J inspired entrance vid for the team. It's SICK.
Loved seeing us commit to running the football. Unfortunately, I think we're going to keep trying to force Shump to be the guy while better options ride the bench. Note to Mullen: Give D-Lee the damn football. He can flat run the rock. It's time for Mullen to free our young players and let them learn on the job. It'll mean some screw ups, but the older guys are screwing up. The difference is you get more athleticism and more difference makers on the field with the young players. We're going to have one hell of a QB battle this spring between Fitzgerald and Staley. (I'll save that analysis for a later date) Auburn is beat up, both in terms of playing a physical LSU team and injuries. Their run D is very suspect. I'd feel very good about our chances of winning, even though we'll be on the road, if I thought Lee and Williams would get more carries next week. We also need Mullen to come out firing instead of being scared and going conservative. Play to win. Gotta get our tackling shored up in a huge hurry as well.
That's how I saw it. You all know how this works. Fire in the hole!
In Mullen We Trust,