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A Defense of Mullen's New Pass Heavy Offense

Mullen's offense has always been centered around the run, but this year has been different.

Since Mullen took over in 2009, running the ball well has always been a priority.  Even when pocket passer Tyler Russell was the starting quarterback, running the ball was an important part of MSU's offense.  As you can see in the chart below, that is no longer the case.

Year Rush Attempts Pass Attempts Rush Percentage
2009 555 266 68%
2010 619 288 68%
2011 513 349 60%
2012 424 424 50%
2013 527 429 55%
2014 578 423 58%
2015 112 151 43%

Take these numbers with a grain of salt, because the NCAA counts sacks as rush attempts.

The increase of passes in 2012 and 2013 was mostly because Tyler Russell didn't run the ball much.  Despite the fact that Mullen has been successful at MSU because of his offense's running attack, he does need to pass more often this year for reasons listed below.  There are some reasons why Mullen shouldn't go complete Air Raid in WMD's Auburn recap, so I won't repeat those in this article.

There isn't an every down runningback

Anthony Dixon, Vick Ballard, Ladarius Perkins, and Josh Robinson were all better than any of our current runningbacks.  With these runningbacks, it was easy for Mullen to prioritize running the ball.  The read option is a lot more of a threat when a defense has to worry about stopping a proven every down runningback, and can't mostly focus on Prescott.

I've seen plenty of criticism of Shumpert, so I'm not going to pile it on here.  Brandon Holloway is a good runningback, but he only weighs 160 pounds, and has played wide receiver for most of his career.  Asking for more than 8-10 rushing attempts a game from him is probably asking too much.  Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee might be good enough to warrant more playing time, but until Mullen gives it to them, I'm assuming they aren't good enough to play regularly (for now).

Receiver depth

This year's group of receivers is the deepest that Mullen has ever had.  The chart below shows that Prescott has felt comfortable spreading the ball around.  It only takes into account the LSU and Auburn games.

Receiver Targets per SEC game
Ross 12
Wilson 11
Walley 6.5
Brown 5
Shumpert 5

Gabe Myles, Malik Dear, and Justin Johnson could see more targets as well as the season goes on.

The line pass blocks better than it run blocks

The offensive line did allow 3 sacks against LSU, but didn't allow any sacks against Auburn.  They also only allowed one sack in each out of conference game.  Some credit has to go to Dak Prescott's mobility, but the line deserves some credit as well.

Since the line is getting some credit for keeping the amount of sacks low, they have to get some blame for the lack of a rushing attack.  Shumpert averaged 5.8 yards per rushing attempt last year, and is currently averaging 4 yards per rushing attempt this year.  That is partially due to the amount of veteran linemen that MSU has had to replace this year.

So what about the rest of the season?

What I've said may not apply very much to Texas A&M.  They have Myles Garrett, who is one of the best in college football at sacking people.  In the last few seasons, Texas A&M has had a better pass defense than rush defense.

I'm not calling for an air raid for the rest of 2015, but for once, Mullen should pass the ball more often than running the ball.  MSU passed 41 times last night, and ran it 21 times, which means MSU ran the ball around one of every three plays.  That seems to be a little too much passing, but unless Shumpert plays better, or Dontavion Lee or Aeris Williams emerges, I anticipate seeing Mullen pass the ball around 60% of the time for the rest of the season.