Peeps, I've always tried to walk the fine line of being positive and shooting straight with you. But some games require a little more effort to find positives and demand more of the straight shooting. Last night's game was one of them. If you're looking for something to make you feel good, this probably won't be the analysis you want. Here's what I saw:
1. The good news is the D only allowed 16 points. The bad news? USM controlled the game offensively. They dominated Time of Possession (TOP) 37:45 to 22:15. USM ran 80 offensive plays. That is NOT good.
2. The stats get worse when you start looking deeper. Because let's be honest, TOP can be flukey in terms of telling you how the game played out if you weren't watching. Nick Mullens, USM QB, went 30-44 for 311 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. USM rushed for another 102 yards. That gave them 413 total yards. Worth noting, Mullens had -29 rush yards from sacks, which actually decreased USM's rush total. If you take out the sack yardage, USM rushed for 131 yards and had 442 yards of total offense.
3. Our defensive game plan was horrendous. Manny Diaz should be embarrassed by that performance. Early in the game, we were giving USM's WRs 8+ yards of cushion. They proceeded to wear us out with the WR screen. Even worse, we had WRs running free in the middle of the field ALL NIGHT on simple crossing routes. We stayed in a base 4-3, cover 2 shell almost all night and never really did much different. We'd occasionally show blitz and back out, but that was about it. I did notice us try a safety blitz with Kivon Coman late in the game, so we weren't completely vanilla, but we weren't mixing it up, either. The only things we did well were stop the interior run game and pressure the QB off the edges. I wasn't a fan of bringing back Manny to begin with and last night's performance did nothing to allay my concerns.
4. The secondary picked up where they left off last year, and that is not a good thing. As mentioned above, we gave up 300+ passing yards and had WRs running open in the middle of the field all night. I don't know if it was miscommunication, refusal to adjust, busted assignments, etc. Regardless, it was pathetic and inexcusable.
5. The DL, particularly the DEs, looked pretty good. Ryan Brown and AJ Jefferson generated consistent pressure. Brown had at least 1 pass deflection. Chris Jones was dominant early. Nick James was a space eater when he wasn't lining up offsides. They got low and did the job on the goal line stand.
6. Speaking of the goal line stand, gotta give the D some props. They were physical and just out-toughed USM. I'm still shocked the Eagles tried to run it between the guards 4 straight times, though. That was a big, big stand and kept the game from really turning to USM's favor.
7. Our tackling was NOT good. I saw way too many attempted arm tackles and attempts to knock the ball carrier down instead of wrapping up and driving through. That's a huge concern moving forward and must be cleaned up this week. If it isn't, Leonard Fournette is going to have a field day.
8. Considering how much we've talked about how good our LBs are and them being the strength of the D, they were pretty awful last night. They did a decent job against the run, but were just flat bad in pass coverage. Richie Brown in particular had a rough night. He missed a bunch of tackles and wasn't very physical.
9. Taveze Calhoun being out was a big blow. We better hope he comes back quickly, because USM picked on Tolando Cleveland and Cedric Jiles all night. Cleveland was especially bad. Then he made a stupid mistake by slinging down a USM player after he was out of bounds. I shudder to think what SEC QBs and WRs will do to him.
1. If you've been a regular reader the last couple of years, you know how I feel about this phase of the game. It's important and can cost you games. Last night's game was a mixed bag.
2. The good: Brandon Holloway's KO return TD was a thing of beauty. He hit the crease, showed a little wiggle to make a couple of guys miss, then hit the afterburners. The blocked punt was a big play. It set us up on a short field for easy points. Considering how little we had the ball offensively, that was a big momentum swing.
3. Westin Graves seemed rock solid. He was perfect on the night hitting all 4 PATs and nailing 2 FG attempts. The two FGs were from 37 and 38 yards out and both had plenty of distance. One was when the game was still relatively close. We'll see how he handles a game at home against LSU, but I feel better after watching him tonight.
4. Devon Bell and Logan Cooke split punting duties. Each had 2 punts, but Cooke had the much better night. He averaged 46.5 yards per punt (YPP), 1 touchback, and 1 inside the 20 with a long of 51. Bell averaged 37.5 YPP with 1 inside the 20 and a long of 39.
5. The bad: Two fumbles, one on punt return, one on kick return. Several muffs and completely unprepared for the multiple onside kick attempts. Bell shanked a punt something fierce. Fred Ross's PR fumble led to an easy USM score. We got totally faked out on a routine fake by USM's PR guy, leading to a touchback instead of being able to pin USM inside the 15. We continued the stupid sky kick on kickoffs trying to pin USM inside the 25 and risking a big return instead of kicking it out the back.
6. Frankly, despite the good things from last night and the apparent emergence of Graves at K, I find myself pretty upset with our STs. We still can't field a punt or kick cleanly. Fred Ross, after being solid at just fielding punts last year, appears to have regressed in that area. And then I saw how clueless we looked trying to handle the onside kick attempts. It looked like we haven't even practiced special teams. I'm going to say it until it is either fixed or I have an aneurysm from watching our ineptness, but we must hire a dedicated ST coach. What we're doing clearly isn't working outside of the occasional big play.
1. Offense had an "off" night by our standards, meaning we didn't eclipse 500 yards of total offense. We weren't too far from it, with 442 yards. The biggest problem was that we just didn't have the ball. As I pointed out above, we barely had the ball for 22 minutes and only ran 60 offensive plays. That's about 10-20 plays below our average.
2. After watching the game, I felt like Dak had a poor night. But then I checked the numbers and he was 22/38 for 237 yards, 2 TDs, 57.8% completions, and a QBR of 86.8. He also rushed 8 times for 72 yards, averaged 9.0 YPC, and had a TD. Finished with over 300 yards of total offense for the 75th time. He had some drops that probably would have helped pad his stats a little more, but he also had several really bad misses. Basically, he just looked a little rusty. And it shows how high our expectations of him are when he puts up those types of numbers and we feel like he had a poor night. What did concern me were a couple of passes where he was rolling out and decided to throw the ball back into traffic. One of those was nearly picked and probably would have been against an SEC team. Gotta make smarter decisions.
3. As I just pointed out, our WRs struggled with the dropsies last night. Fred Ross had 3 or 4 really bad drops that I remember, one of which probably cost us a TD. On the positive side, they continued to block well. Bear Wilson had a really nice block to help spring Ross on his big play on our first offensive possession.
4. Offensive line was pretty average. Rufus Warren struggled some at LT. Gotta shore that up before LSU next week. Other than that, not much to say about the OL. They were really good in pass protection and gave Dak all night to make throws. Run blocking wasn't bad, but part of the issue there was the RB position.
5. Speaking of RBs, Ashton Shumpert had a dreadful night. He finished with 8 carries for 38 yards and averaged just 4.8 YPC. But it was actually worse than that. He gained half his yardage on his final carry. Prior to that he had 7 carries for 19 yards and only 2.6 YPC. But Shump did add 4 catches for 26 yards. Shump's vision continued to be an issue. But he also displayed a lack of quick feet and poor balance. He lacked a burst into and through the hole. I've said for well over a year now that he isn't an SEC feature back. The worst play was his fumble on the opening drive. He was trying to run through tackles for the go ahead TD, but was stripped. Ball rolls into the endzone and USM recovers. The game completely shifted on that play. But the reason Shump was stripped is because he was carrying the ball at his hip. Basically the first thing you're taught as a RB when they put a football in your hands is "high and tight." Just a really terrible breakdown in fundamentals.
6. If Bear Wilson hadn't had the nice block early, I wouldn't have known he was playing until the 4th quarter. He made his lone catch late, but it was a big play for 42 yards.
7. Welcome to the SEC, Justin Johnson! True freshman scoring a TD on his first catch in his first game. That's how you make an impact. If he can block, I think he'll pass Gus Walley on the depth chart quickly.
8. Speaking of Walley, he had a nice night receiving, but a poor night blocking. It's basically what I expected from him. Always good to see the TEs get into the endzone, though. He bailed out one of those throws back into traffic by Dak for his TD.
9. Brandon Holloway had a good night toting the ball. USM just didn't have an answer for his speed.
1. Our game plan was VERY vanilla. We basically just tried to out-athlete USM. It wound up working, but it was super ugly. It became painfully obvious that we were intent on not letting Dak run until we found ourselves in a fight at halftime.
2. We didn't run the "darn" football. Out of 60 offensive plays, 38 were passes. Our run/pass ratio was 37/63. Pretty much the total opposite of what we should be doing. I expected more passing in the game, but not a complete reversal of what we do. Unacceptable game plan from Mullen.
3. We were ridiculously flat. Not an excuse for a bad performance, simply a statement of fact. I was concerned about the 9 PM KO, and it looked like my concerns were valid. It's hell on a road team to play so late. They sit in a hotel for most of the day, have some meetings, and do what they can to stay loose, but it's an almost impossible task. We just had zero energy or fire on the whole. The good news is we played through it and won.
4. Our use of personnel was interesting to say the least. After all the hype about the younger players, most of them never saw the field. Or if they did, I never saw them. I can't remember seeing Gerri Green, Brandon Bryant, Jamaal Peters, Mark McLaurin, etc. And for all the talk of RB by committee, Shumpert was clearly the feature back. Malik Dear, Aeris Williams, and Dontavian Lee didn't play until the final drive. Either we've been grossly misled about our personnel or we were rewarding hard working upperclassmen with PT in an OOC game and trying not to have any film on the young guys for LSU next week. I'll let you try to figure out which one it is, because I sure as hell can't.
5. No pre-snap penalties on offense that I remember. That's a good thing in a season opener. Conversely, Nick James lining up offsides 3 time isn't good. Gotta get that fixed. Don't want to give LSU short yardage situations.
6. I'm expecting to see us revert to form next weekend. I'd be shocked if we don't return to running the football on offense and are much more aggressive on D. We were just trying to survive being as basic as possible last night.
USM is much improved from a year ago. They infused a lot of new talent in the offseason with 21 transfers and it showed. That said, we played like garbage and were still the better team. This game was their Super Bowl and they played like it. They rode the emotion and kept it close much longer than I had anticipated. Tim Brando basically confirmed what I've said for a while: We played this series as a political favor to Governor Phil Bryant. It should NEVER happen again. We gain literally nothing by playing USM. And don't even get me started on their shenanigans with the tickets. Basically, we played the worst game we've played in a couple of years and still won. Not only did we win, we led the vast majority of the game. Despite USM moving the ball in the air, it became pretty obvious that they weren't going to put it in the endzone.
That's how I saw it. You guys should know the drill by now. Fire in the hole!
In Mullen We Trust,