Peeps, it's always good to cap off the season with a win. Mississippi State did that emphatically on Wednesday night, thumping North Carolina State 51-28. Best of all, Dak Prescott leaves the program on a winning note. But as always, it's time to evaluate the game and ask "What did we learn?" Here's what I saw:
1. The D was very good, holding NCSU to just 424 yards of total offense, 214 passing and 210 rushing. State generated a tremendous amount of pressure on Jacoby Brissett and totaled 5 sacks. It's not the most reliable stat, but State was officially credited with 8 QBHs. They also had 6 TFLs. But most importantly is the number 2: How many turnovers the Dawgs created. That's been the big ingredient missing from the D in 2015.
2. DL was outstanding all day, and it was evident from the very first play. Jonathan Calvin blows by the NCSU OT and is right in the face of Brissett, forcing him to make an errant throw that was picked by Gerri Green.
3. LBs were outstanding as usual. Nothing to be said here I haven't said already this season. Strength of the D.
4. DBs had a very good day. NCSU found themselves covered most of the day. You almost never saw anyone wide open. There was one major blown assignment which led to NCSU's first TD, but that was the only terrible play in coverage I remember seeing.
5. Already mentioned him, but Gerri Green had a monster day and was constantly around the football. Hopefully he accepts the transition to DE this offseason, but he's a beast.
6. Chris Jones and Nick James didn't dominate the stat sheet - just 6 tackles and no TFLs, Sacks, or QBHs between them - but they were almost unblockable. They were constantly blowing up the interior OL for NCSU.
7. Brandon Bryant had a big day and continues to prove he's our best S. His INT was #SCTop10 quality and actually made the SC Top 10. He finished the day with 6 tackles, 4 solo. That was 4th on the team. And he just missed a 2nd INT when he mistimed his jump.
8. Another Pup who's making a huge impact is JT Gray. He was just plain nasty, finishing tied for the team lead with 9 tackles, 3 solo, 1 TFL, and 1 sack. Really looking forward to seeing him start next season.
9. The Brown "brothers" continued their sterling play: 17 tackles, 3 TFLs, 3 sacks, 3 QBH combined.
10. Kivon Coman made some nice plays at times, but also made at least one critical mistake. He took a terrible angle on NCSU's 4th and short that they popped for a long TD run to cut the lead to 21-14. He's got all the athletic ability needed, but he just can't put it all together so far. Hopefully he'll take a quantum leap forward in the offseason.
11. Was Ryan Brown hurt? Obviously Johnathan Calvin drew the start, but I don't recall seeing Brown at all.
12. I hate the D let NCSU score the garbage time TD, but it was still impressive that they almost came up with the goal line stand. It was our 2nd and 3rd string versus NCSU's starters.
1. STs had a solid day. The only major gaffe was a missed PAT.
2. Logan Cooke had an easy day. He punted just 4 times and averaged 38.5 YPP with 1 inside the 20 and 1 TB. He pinned NCSU at their own 1, which really flipped field position. And he came close on the touchback.
3. Devon Bell continued to be good at KO.
4. Westin Graves might've missed a PAT, but he nailed his lone FG attempt from 39 yards. Nice to see him convert, especially in those conditions.
1. The offense had a really good day with 569 yards of Total Offense, 380 Passing and 189 Rushing. State was 9-17 on 3rd down and 2-2 on 4th down.
2. RBs were surprisingly good. They combined for 109 of the 189 rush yards. Individually:
A. Brandon Holloway - 13 carries for 41 yards, 3.2 YPC, long rush of 9. Not good, but 13 carries is way too many for him, but that's not his fault. His biggest contributions come in the passing game.
B. Ashton Shumpert - 5 for 27, 5.4 YPC, long of 13. Shump actually looked good at times but still needs to be at FB.
C. Aeris Williams - 3 for 39, 13 YPC, long of 33, 1 TD. Williams had the best run of the day and the lone TD. It's a crime that he's buried behind Shump and Holloway. Hopefully our coach(es) will agree that he's paid his dues this season and can finally be on the field more than 6 plays a game in 2016.
D. Dontavian Lee - 1 for 2, 2 YPC, long of 2. He's our best pure runner, but if rumors can be trusted, can't get out of his way off the field. Need him to pull his head out of his rectum during the offseason and decide he wants to do what it takes off the field in order to get his chance on the field.
3. OL had one of their best games of the year, despite facing some injuries. Elgton Jenkins and Deion Calhoun both started and were very good. Don't know why they haven't been starting all year, but I've ranted about that all season.
4. Need to give special credit to Justin Malone. He moved from G over to C with Jamaal Clayborn out and handled the move well. He's now played every position on the OL in a game this season. He even jumped on a fumble for a Fat Guy TD.
5. WRs continued to be elite. Several big plays and spectacular catches from this group.
6. Fred Ross went over the 1,000 yard mark for the system with 7 catches for 74 yards and 1 TD. He also added 1 rush for 33 yards and a TD. He's become MSU's most reliable target this season and a big play machine.
7. Bear Wilson continued to be a huge weapon and finished with 5 catches for 96 yards and 1 TD, including a long of 39.
8. As usual, Brandon Holloway did his damage in the passing game. He had 4 catches for 78 yards and 2 TDs. One of those went for 55 yards. He should've had one more TD near the end of the first half but got tripped up by the yard line.
9. Fred Brown made a big play. He's quietly had a very good season, totaling 412 yards on 27 catches and is tied with Bear at 15.3 YPC. We have so many weapons he just doesn't see a whole lot of targets.
10. Malik Dear and Donald Gray both made big plays. Gray made a great grab on a ball thrown a little bit short for a first down. Dear needs more than 3 touches.
11. Dak was razor sharp all day. He finished the day 25-42, 380 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, and a completion percentage of 59.5%. He also added 12 rushes for 47 yards. It wasn't his best day in terms of completion percentage, but some of that was weather related. The fact is he just made big play after big play and stepped up when we needed him most.
Perhaps the most impressive moment of the game for Dak was in the 2nd Quarter. The Wolfpack had just scored to cut the lead down to 7. You could feel the momentum shifting in their favor. Dak comes out and orchestrates a 9 play, 74 yard TD drive to answer. It was the dagger for NC State and game over. The rout was on at that point.
The 380 passing yards were a Belk Bowl record, as were his 427 yards of total offense. His 4 TD passes tied a Belk Bowl record. It's fitting that he set more records in his final game wearing maroon.
1. Gotta give credit to Dan Mullen. After losing to virtually every team with a pulse we played this season, including blowouts by Bama and Northern Miss, he had the team ready to play. The game plan was great and forced NCSU's inexperienced D to make plays. I have a few gripes like not getting the young Pups more involved in the game, but it's hard to complain much when you set a Belk Bowl record for points scored.
2. Manny Diaz deserves credit too. The D finally played the way we knew it was capable, despite giving up 28 points. One busted coverage anda player making a terrible decision are the difference in NCSU scoring 28 and 14. Keep the garbage time TD off the board and they only score 7. But screw ups are part of the game.
3. Gotta give props to NCSU while I'm at it. They were overmatched but never stopped fighting. They've got a good team, but you saw the gulf in class between a mediocre SEC team and the ACC. Not to mention they ran into an emotional buzzsaw with it being Dak's last game.
4. Nice to send Tony Hughes out the door a winner, too. I think I speak for all Dawg fans when I say Good Luck to Coach Hughes as Head Coach at Jackson State. We're rooting for you.
5. Props to the Belk Bowl for playing Don't Stop Believin' during the 4th Quarter intermission.
6. In case anyone was crazy enough to believe otherwise thundersticks < cowbells. CLANGA!
7. Major props to our fans for making the trek up to Charlotte. I guarantee it didn't go unnoticed. The weather might've been terrible on game day, but you were there in force and loud. And I saw a bunch of maroon around town on Tuesday night, too.
Apologies for the delay in getting this done. WMD drove straight through after the game and got home at 5 AM Thursday. Frankly, WMD was tired and didn't feel like writing before last night. I said prior to the game I felt like it was a bit of a must win for Mullen in order to earn back some of the good will he's squandered over the last 6-8 weeks. Safe to say, mission accomplished. The team was ready to go from the opening kickoff and never took its foot off the gas. We had a slow start right after halftime for whatever reason, but that happens. It was a great moment to send Fitz into the game mid-possession to replace Dak. And in the least surprising moment in MSU history, Dak got a huge response from the crowd. Gotta credit the officials on how well they handled it, too. They didn't rush to get the game restarted or throw a flag for delay and made sure Dak got his moment. It was great seeing so many of the Pups play well in expanded roles and bodes well for the future. I just wish we would use them more throughout the season. It isn't that hard to figure out who's ready to be a significant contributor and who isn't. Now it's time to wait and see who declares for the Draft.
Y'all know the drill. Fire in the hole!
Pull the Rope,