Peeps, Saturday is Judgement Day for the 2015 edition of MSU football. Most of us thought we'd be 3-1 after September and State rolls into Auburn at 2-1. After a close loss to LSU, this game has become a must win if MSU wants to make a real run at a second SEC West Championship this year. So what does State need to do to walk out of Jordan Hare with a win? Here's what I think:
1. Run the "Darn" Football: State saw the running game start to find itself against Northwestern State last weekend. That's a good thing, because everything the Dawg offense wants to do is predicated on the ability to run the football effectively. Perhaps most encouraging was seeing Dak Prescott use his legs for several nice runs. If Dak is returning to running the ball, it makes the job easier for the OL and for the RBs. But let's be honest, this is just as much about Auburn's run defense as it is State's need to run. Auburn is 14th in the SEC and tied for 123rd out of 127 nationally in run defense, allowing 270 rush YPG. There are only 3 teams with a worse run D in the FBS. State needs to run the ball early and often. Hopefully we see expanded roles for Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams. It's certainly a good chance to get the young guys touches against an SEC opponent who's struggling. But I also wouldn't be at all surprised if Ashton Shumpert has a good night. Regardless, State needs to commit to running the football Saturday. Auburn is beat up from a physical game with LSU and has a few key defensive injuries as well. Force them to tackle and take it to them physically. Nothing will demoralize a D that is already struggling faster than being unable to stop the run.
2. "You blitz ALL NIGHT!!!!": With Jeremy Johnson struggling at QB for the Tigers, head coach Gus Malzahn has announced redshirt freshman Sean White will start on Saturday night. This won't just be White's first start, it will be his first game action period as a college player. While he may be a bit of an unknown in that regard, the sword cuts both ways. He's never seen a college defense outside of practice before, much less an SEC defense. MSU DC Manny Diaz needs to dial up the pressure Saturday night. Bring blitz after blitz after blitz from every single angle. Hit White early and often. He needs to have nightmares of AJ Jefferson, Chris Jones, Ryan Brown, etc. after the game. Show pressure and back off. Get the kid so confused he does good just to take the shotgun snap.
3. Tackle/Limit Big Plays: State has been pretty poor at tackling through the first 3 games of 2015. That has to change and change now. Auburn can still run the football, so we have got to be sound in our technique, wrap up and prevent Yards After Contact (YAC) for their RBs. We can't let Duke Williams at WR slip a tackle and race an extra 40 yards for a TD. Get their skill guys on the ground and limit as much extra yardage as possible. Force Auburn and White to sustain drives and move the chains. Don't give them anything easy to build their confidence.
WMD's Thoughts: I know pretty much everything I've said in terms of this week's Keys is very "Captain Obvious." But that doesn't make them any less true or crucial. State has NO EXCUSES for losing this game. Everything is lining up in our favor: Coaching staff in panic, a freshman QB who's never played, a really poor defensive struggling with injuries, and a team low on confidence after a physical thrashing by LSU. Dan Mullen needs to come out aggressive and go right after the Auburn D. A quick score and fast start could really get Auburn inside their heads. I'd like to see expanded roles for some of the young guys, too. I really want to see us force a couple of turnovers. That has been the big thing missing from the D so far, and it's supposed to be one of the hallmarks of a Manny Diaz defense. If we don't blitz White to death and lose, have Manny on a radar tower in Alaska by the end of the day. Just ship him some clothes. Losing this game is an unacceptable outcome and would be a total failure by our coaching staff as a whole. I'm excited for this one, as I think this team is ready to rise to the challenge. We'll know a whole lot about our team after this weekend.
In Mullen We Trust,