Peeps, I said before the game this was a must win for State if we wanted to have another big season. There were no excuses if we lost this game. Thankfully, the Dawgs answered and won what turned into a defensive struggle. We're 3-1 after September, which is right where most of us thought we'd be. Beating Auburn, especially at Auburn, is always sweet. WMD is VERY happy today. But enough of my rambling. What did we learn in this win? Here's what I saw:
1. I wasn't thrilled with the defense, despite limiting Auburn to 9 points. But the Dawgs allowed 201 yards rushing, 137 to Peyton Barber. And in his first action as a college QB, Sean White was very efficient for Auburn, completing 20 of 28 passes and rushing for 29 yards. Also worth noting, the D was once again on the field 35+ minutes. That's asking way too much of them every week.
2. State didn't get much pressure on White until late in the game. I was very unhappy with the lack of pressure early in the game. You've got a kid at QB who has never played before and you decide to not pressure him. I've had it with the bend but don't break concept. It puts way too much pressure on the D and keeps them on the field. When we started blitzing White, we got to him and he started to look a little rattled. You've got to test him early, not wait until the game is nearly over.
3. I thought our tackling was once again awful, at least in the first half. We did seem to do better in the second half. But we dive at ankles and miss as much as any team I've ever seen. We fail to wrap up. We arm tackle. Early in the game, Taveze Calhoun laid a big hit on a Tiger, but didn't wrap up. The player bounced off and gained about 8-10 yards after the hit for a first down. We tried to arm tackle on a kickoff once at the 10. The guy ran through it and gained an extra 12 yards out to the 22. We have to fix this problem.
4. Richie Brown wound up with a really nice night. He led the team in tackles and had a couple of sacks. He struggled against the run in the first half, but came out and played really well in the second half. Hopefully he's finally putting it all together.
5. Gerri Green was a man. When he was in, Auburn really struggled to run. Green's stats aren't going to jump out at you, but he was filling the holes and very physical at the point of attack. He freed up other guys to come in and clean up the play. He needs to be playing more.
6. Will Redmond continues to be solid. He badly misjudged the depth of a pass on Auburn's first drive for what should've been an easy pick. But he redeemed himself with a TD saving pick a few plays later. He also got pressure on a CB blitz late to force a bad throw by White.
7. JT Gray had a good night. Like Green, his stats don't jump out, but he was always around the ball. Why he doesn't start over Zach Jackson is one of the big mysteries of the season. He's clearly ready.
8. Why the heck was DeAndre Ward in the game in the 4th quarter? He's barely more than a walk-on. Let him play on STs and in garbage time, but he shouldn't be on the field on D when the game is still in doubt.
9. Brandon Bryant is a baller and needs a whole lot more PT. He's ready. Every snap that Deontay Evans plays over Bryant should be a deduction from Manny Diaz's paycheck.
10. AJ Jefferson gonna AJ Jefferson. Wish all our guys played like him. He's a beast who never stops.
11. We're soft at the edge against the run. If we don't fix it fast, teams with a legit back and power run game are going to gash us unmercifully. This Auburn offense isn't the same one we've faced for most of the Mullen era. They have QB issues and lack that big time back they've had.
1. Westin Graves has serious stones. He bombed the 42 yard field goal to put the game just out of Auburn's reach. But what should make all of us mad is that it would've been good from 55. Yet we let Bell kick the 52 yarder against LSU.
2. Logan Cooke had a big night. He had the miscue early where he bombed what should've been a pooch punt, but I'm not too upset about that. He pinned Auburn inside the 20 on 3 of his 5 punts and had the 54 yard bomb to flip field position once. And the hang time he was getting was insane, negating any chances for a return.
3. Fred Ross still scares me on punt return with the finger tip catches. I'd really like to see Donald Gray or Gabe Myles get a chance.
4. Glad to see us get the onside kick right. Let the ball roll out of bounds and game over. We all know that's been a little bit of an issue for Mullen teams, including this season. Nice to see some progress there.
5. Overall, really good night for our STs. Nice to see us finally find a K and Cooke is a beast punting. Also nice to see us getting the ball into the endzone on KOs.
1. I HATED our game plan. We're facing one of the 5 worst run defenses in the nation who gives up 270 YPG on the ground and we went Air Raid. We threw the ball 41 times out of 62 offensive plays. And of the 21 rushes, 3 were out of the victory formation. So really, we had just 18 rushes. I get that the strength of this team is QB and WR, but to not even try to run is completely inexcusable. You can't win the SEC West without a running game. Our running backs had 10 carries COMBINED. We've completely reversed our identity so far this season, throwing it 65+% of the time. I think all of us expected more passing this year, but that meant 50/50 instead of the 60 run/40 pass we're used to seeing.
2. Reversing your identity has consequences. Dak looks tentative running the ball now. He's not the decisive bruiser we saw last season. We had a 3rd and 2 late to keep a drive alive in Auburn territory, but instead of running, Dak throws a bomb for Donald Gray. Run it, get the 2 yards, give the D a little more rest, and maybe we punch in the TD.
3. Dak may not be quite the same running it so far, but he's become even better as a passer. He's taking what the D gives him and isn't forcing anything. He wound up going 29-41 for 270 yards, 70.7% com and 2 TDs. He made a 3rd down pass to Fred Brown at one point that was sick. Moving to his left, he put just enough touch on it to get it just over the Auburn LB to Brown without sailing it. He's definitely razor sharp throwing it right now.
4. Shump gonna Shump. What else can I say about him that I haven't already said? He's just not a RB, period. It was obvious he's slower than molasses in February last night. Two plays in particular stood out to me. 1) Shump takes a swing pass on 3rd down. All he has to do is lower his head and run hard to make the 1st down. Instead, he tries to juke, starts running like he's wearing cement cleats, and gets tackled pretty much where he caught it. 2) Huge hole, green grass in front of Shump, looks like a big gain. Shump gains 3 yards. He must look like Hershel Walker in practice, because that's the only explanation for why he continues to play. But based on our run D so far, you and I would probably look like Hershel. From now on, I'm just saying "Shump gonna Shump" and move on. There's nothing left to say.
5. I'm a Brandon Holloway fan. He's small, but he's quick and he runs hard. He's got good vision and feet, plus he's tough as a $2 steak. He's finding the holes and making things happen. I wish Shump ran as hard as Holloway.
6. WRs continue to struggle with drops. Bear, Fred Brown and a couple others all had drops tonight.
7. Bear Wilson is a man. His TD catch was just plain nasty. It's gonna suck when he goes to the NFL after the season.
8. Gabe Myles needs more touches. He's electric with the ball in his hands. The kid is going to be special by the time he leaves State.
9. Fred Brown proving why I've been high on him for two years. He just makes plays. The catch he made on review was really nice. I thought it was a catch in real time, so I'm glad the booth reviewed it and overturned the incompletion call.
10. After a huge game last week, Donald Gray barely got on the field. He was only targeted once that I can recall, on the 3rd and 2 bomb. We've got to get him more involved with the offense. He's another guy that's just electric with the ball.
11. Gus Walley had a couple of big receptions, but his fumbles were nearly disaster. One led directly to points. He's gotta hold onto the football.
12. Elgton Jenkins appears to have overtaken Rufus Warren at LT. He played really well when he was in the game. Hopefully he can help improve the OL, which has been pretty solid so far.
13. Speaking of the OL, they played well. Dak had all night to throw. They opened up some lanes to run that Holloway found. Dak found a couple of lanes, but missed one and ran into his blocker on what should've been an easy first down pickup. That's on him, not the OL. They're getting better every week. I just wish we'd turn them loose and let them be the nasty, physical group they're supposed to be.
1. I have no idea what our coaches were thinking with that gameplan, both offensively and defensively. But it worked and got us a much needed win. So good job.
2. Our personnel decisions on both sides of the ball still make no sense. Offensively, Malik Dear gets a couple of early touches and had big plays, even though one was called back on a hold. Then he doesn't touch the ball again all night. Where's Justin Johnson? We got him involved against USM and LSU, but he's disappeared the last two weeks. I like Walley, when he's not fumbling, but I think JJ can be special. And he's already a better blocker than Walley. So why the disappearing act? I have no clue why we can't give Lee, Williams and Dear a chance at RB. It's becoming really obvious with every passing week that Shump doesn't have the tools to succeed in that role, especially when Holloway is finding lanes to run. Why did we even bother dressing out the young guys if we aren't going to give them their shot?
Defensively, Green, Bryant, and JT Gray are all ready to play very significant roles. Gray at the very least should start. I'd like to see more PT for Jiles over Cleveland. Why is Corey Thomas behind Torrey Dale at DT? The coaches said Thomas could've played last season if we'd needed him. But now he's losing snaps to an undersized converted DE? Peters and McLaurin have the physical tools, but they aren't quite there yet. But we should find a way to get each of them a possession a game to help accelerate their development.
3. Reversing your offensive identity has consequences, part II: Without a running game, Mullen is hanging the D out to dry. We can't keep possession and keep the clock moving to give the D a blow. We're asking them to spend way too much time on the field. Even if you think the D is playing well right now, I think you'll agree that they'll wear down over the course of the season if they have to be on the field 35+ minutes every week.
4. As much as I've ripped Mullen about STs, this is the best ST group we've had under him. Credit to him for (mostly) shoring it up. Now if he'd just drop the love affair with Bell and let Graves kick everything, 50+ or not. (Yes, that's going to bug me all year now that we've seen Graves has the leg for 50+.)
5. This team needs to develop some killer instinct. We scored 2 TDs on our first 3 possessions, then managed just a FG the rest of the way. We aren't winning a whole lot of SEC games scoring just 17 points.
6. Big props to our fans who traveled to the game. At one point you could clearly hear a "Maroon! White!" cheer on the TV.
WMD's Thoughts: We won a game we absolutely had to. It wasn't very pretty, but I'll take it. A win is a win. The coaching staff still has some things to figure out. It's one thing to try running the ball, getting stuffed, then going to the pass. But never even trying, especially against a team that's been gashed on the ground the way Auburn has, is just poor planning. Mullen still tends to get conservative with a lead instead of going for the throat. Up 14-0 and looking like we're on the verge of turning it into a blowout. Instead, we basically stop taking shots deep, aren't running any clock with all the passing, then have the Walley fumble. Momentum is all Auburn. Thankfully, offense puts together just enough for the Graves FG. At what point does Mullen sit Shump? I heard Mullen utter the phrase "bend but don't break" in regards to our D in the postgame. Any doubt left why our DCs change every couple of years but the philosophy remains the same? Dak gets his first win in a game where he threw the ball 40+ times. Nice to see, but I'd prefer that not become a theme this season. At some point, we're going to have to get physical on offense if we want to avoid a 2012 scenario where we beat all the crappy teams and lose to all the teams with a pulse. We could get away with what we're doing in the East, but we play in the West. Regardless, we got a HUGE SEC road win. They're hard to get and don't happen too often. Enjoy it, because I certainly am.
Another huge road game next week against aTm. They can score, and I wouldn't be surprised if this turns into a shootout. I'd love to see us find a way to run the ball so we can chew up some clock and keep their O on the sidelines, but at this point, I'm fully prepared for dueling Air Raid.
That's how I saw it anyway. You know the drill. Fire in the hole!
In Mullen We Trust (Even When He Drives Us Nuts),