2015 Belk Bowl Preview

mississippi-state-quarterback-dak-prescottJust like you guys and gals, I’ve been spending quality time with family and friends, so here is my short and sweet game preview. Enjoy and share…

Depending on who you ask, the 2015 season was either a pleasant surprise for Mississippi State, or, just an average year. Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs were picked to win no more than 6 games, and forecasted to finish dead last in the SEC West- by the Conference’s media. Thank goodness neither prediction came to fruition. The Dawgs find themselves here in the middle of the 2015-2016 Bowl Season, and awaiting a date with the NC State Wolfpack, which offers MSU a chance to rack up their 9th win. If you’re like me, it’s hard to look passed the poor performances against A&M, Bama, and Ole Miss, but in reality, this team exceeded expectations and spent about half the season ranked. So, how much can we really complain? With that said though, we could see the old bowl game cliche of “one team looked excited to be there, and the other team could’ve cared less”– on full display, if the Bulldogs approach this game with an ungrateful attitude. Lord knows there’s a big difference between the Sugar Bowl and the Belk Bowl, though the deciding factor came down to a single game.

092048e1604bb9703314d499fdf03414One team that will be excited to be playing in Charlotte today, is North Carolina State. Less than a 3 hour ride from the Wolfpack’s campus in Raleigh, there’s no doubt that Pack fans will be in full force, especially with the chance to knock off an SEC West opponent. NC State scrapped and clawed their way to a 7-5 record, losing 3 of their 5 games to teams that are all ranked within the top 11, of the College Football Playoff poll. Though there are no moral victories in football, it’s worth noting that NC State played #1 Clemson extremely well, before falling 56-41 to the playoff bound Tigers. Unfortunately, Louisville and Virginia Tech provided the Wolfpack with their other 2 losses, which muddy up their resume’a bit. On the flip side, all of MSU’s losses with the exception of one (A&M) came against teams currently in the top 20 of the CFP polls, including #2 Alabama.

1576767As NC State seeks their second straight 8-win season under Dave Doeren, and as State looks to end a roller coaster year on a positive note, this game is all about the Quarterbacks who lead these teams. The Wolfpack is led by former Florida transfer, Jacoby Brissett, while Mississippi State is led by arguably the best player to ever wear Maroon and White, in Dak Prescott. During his career in Raleigh, Brissett has played a pivotal role in making the Pack competitive once again, as the program rebuilds and gains traction under the leadership of Doeren. For Prescott, he’s seen his role evolve since he stepped on campus in Starkville, from a back up rushing QB, to a Heisman contender that led MSU to 5 straight weeks atop the CFP poll, in 2014. For Dave Doeren and MSU’s Dan Mullen, you would have to think that neither coach will pull any punches- when it comes to dialing up big plays for their respective QB’s today, hoping to send their signal-caller out a winner.

QB Stats
Prescott: 3,414 yds passing, 25 TDs and 4 INTs, 541 rushing and 10 TDs.
Brissett: 2,448 yds passing, 19 TDs and 4 INTs, 303 yds rushing and 5 TDs.

Stat Matchup  (Leader is listed first)
Total Offense: MSU- 451 ypg; NCS- 411 ypg
Passing Offense: MSU- 311 ypg; NCS- 210 ypg
Rushing Offense: NCS- 210 ypg; MSU- 140 ypg
Scoring Offense: NCS- 33 ppg; MSU- 33 ppg

Total Defense: NCS- 332 ypg; MSU- 388 ypg
Passing Defense: NCS- 188 ypg; MSU- 216 ypg
Rushing Defense: NCS- 144 ypg; MSU- 171 ypg
Scoring Defense: MSU- 22 ppg; NCS- 23 ppg

As you can see by the stats, Dak Prescott and the Bulldog Offense have their work cut out for them today. But, if I could make you feel a little bit better about how dominant the Wolfpack’s #19 ranked Defense looks on paper, check out this stat…

MSU’s Offensive Efficiency- 15th nationally.
NC State’s Defensive Efficiency- 72nd nationally.

Also, for those MSU fans who are worried about facing a duel-threat QB like Brissett, (and for the record I still believe you should), because the Dawg D has been down right porous at times, the stats say State isn’t that bad in reality…

NC State’s Offensive Efficiency- 20th nationally.
MSU’s Defensive Efficiency- 36th nationally.

*(For those wondering, State is ranked 33rd in overall Team Efficiency, while NC State is ranked 68th)

Belkbowl_4My Thoughts on the Matchup: As I mentioned in my previous article, MSU’s O-Line isn’t built for the run game, and against a team that is so solid in stopping that aspect of the game, I don’t see Mullen trying to impose his will with our younger, smaller backfield, and not-s0-athletic OL. Instead, I think Mullen will pull his Arkansas game plan out of his back pocket, which was pretty much call a pass play 70% of the time, keep the ball in the hands of your best player, and run the ball occasionally to keep NC State honest. Look for Holloway and the other Backs to run routes to the flat and middle of the field, to get around NC State’s aggressive DL, one in which features 3 players that have at least 10 tackles per loss (no, that’s not a typo). DE #90, Mike Rose, is a freak if you haven’t seen him play yet, and State will have to contain him for Prescott to have success in the passing and read-option game. Mullen must dial up plays that get the ball out of Prescott’s hands quickly, unless OL Coach John Hevesy has somehow snuck Beckwith, Day, and Clausell into his starting 5. On Defense, I firmly believe that Manny Diaz has to do what he always intends to do when game-planning, which is to make the opponent one-dimensional. In the case of today’s game, it has to be to stop that Wolfpack running game, which averages 200+ yards a game, and is easier said than done. The Pack has 5 RBs with over 200 yards rushing on the year, lead by Jr. Matthew Dayes (865 yds, 12 TDs). NC State will be a highly motivated team, happy to be in bowl that’s less than 3 hours from home, with a chance to knock off an SEC team.

Prediction:  MSU  34   NC State 31   Too. Close. For. Comfort.

With Mullen Staying, Miss. State in Need of Some Changes

Dan-Mullen-by-Stacy-Revere-Getty-Images-Mississippi-State-v-Vanderbilt-2014-DRC_7623_bkeojyIf you’re like me, you’ve had lengthy conversations the last few days about the outcome of the Egg Bowl, and about the future of MSU Football, be that- with or without Dan Mullen at the helm. More than likely, you did your best to pull away from State and Ole Miss fans alike in those conversations, but your need to vent, brainstorm, and forecast the direction of the program-caused you to stick around a little longer. In all of those talks that I have had, I keep coming to the same conclusion…

I want the Dan Mullen of 2009 back.

You remember that guy, right? Hungry, fiery, passionate, and entertaining to Bulldog fans; brash to his rivals, and a competitive spirit that was the envy of many fan bases around the country. Love him or hate him, the guy could flat out coach and turned MSU’s program around. Fast-forward to the end of the 2015 regular season, and whatever was a part of Mullen’s DNA that made him so special in his early years in Starkville, seems to have fizzled to an extent.

Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’m well aware that we all age and mature, and that we all burn out from time to time, but there’s more to this than just that. This is more than a lack of ‘energy and passion’ issue. To be honest, it’s almost difficult to lay a finger on ‘what’ is actually keeping MSU from having even more success on the football field. But, with that said, I know of a few areas that would be a great place to start…

dak-prescott-dan-mullen-ncaa-football-mississippi-state-mississippi-850x560#1 Dan Needs Fulfill His End of the Bargain: As a fan, I’ve done everything Mullen has asked of me and you. I’ve been a season ticket holder since graduating from college. I donate what I can on a Tennessee teacher’s salary, and make 5-hour roundtrips on Saturdays (not bragging, many of you drive farther and give more). I am one of the loudest people in my section at Davis Wade, doing my part to make it one of the nation’s toughest places to play. I’ve done my part, and will continue to, with or without Mullen’s influence. But, I want Dan to do his part. I’m pretty sure that when you read that, 1 of 2 things immediately came to mind: (1) Mullen took MSU all the way to #1 last season, and asking for anything else would just be unreasonable. Or, (2) you probably thought about it for a second, and then nodded silently in agreement. There’s no doubt that Bulldog fans such as myself will always be forever grateful for what Mullen has done for MSU Football. I couldn’t praise the guy enough for the complete change of perspective, both inside and outside of the program. But, I have to ask every Bulldog fan out there: Is that it? Is that what we are willing to settle for? If so, we have major issues. I take issue with the fact that Mullen and the Dawgs climbed the mountain of College Football last season, only to get drummed in 3 of their last 4 games, by teams that I do not feel were better than us (last year). Sadly, it’s easier to catch fire than it is to bottle it, and since last November, we have not been the same team, nor has Dan been the same coach. Mullen’s early teams at State took on his personality, and eventually built a winning program, paving the way for that 2014 team. I know coaches lean on certain players, and entrust them with leadership roles, but at the end of the day, teams always look to the Head Coach and position coaches for their identity on the football field. To me, I have had zero issues with how Mullen has handled this aspect of his job, until the Alabama game last season. Looking back, it was that swag, grit, and confidence that pushed State to the #1 ranking for 5 weeks last year, but it was the timid, cautious, and overly-conservative approach that began the Dawgs’ fall from the top, and out of the Playoff picture. This season, Mullen seemed to wait to get punched in the mouth (sometimes repeatedly), before mustering up a response, looking much like our opponents did in the first half of 2014 when facing us. This simply has to change. MSU cannot afford to play reactionary football, in a league where every team’s goal is to cut the other’s throat. In fact, MSU Football is a ways away from displaying the ‘Relentless Effort’ that Mullen long ago adopted as State’s motto. Would anyone disagree with me, if I said we lack ‘attack’ on BOTH sides of the ball? It’s clear as day! Hopefully this offseason, Mullen will do some major self-reflection in regards to adjusting his game planning and situational play-calling. QB draws on 3rd and 8, aren’t the answer, and neither is a bend but don’t break Defense. With all the negative that I just shined a light on, I have to tip my hat to Mullen for exceeding the media’s expectations of how our year would play out. Predicted to finish 6-6 and last in the West, State went into the Egg Bowl with a chance to win 9 regular season games, and a piece of 2nd place in the country’s toughest division. But, at the same time, it makes me wonder how it all unfolds, if we approach things in a much different fashion against LSU, Bama, A&M, and Ole Miss. With that said though, I don’t know that we’ve ever seen a year where Dan openly admitted so many play-calls he second-guessed himself on, that resulted in a play that negatively effected us. Plus, we were out-coached, out-physicaled, and outplayed in all 4 of our losses. Mullen needs that early, 2014 confidence back, and I mean ASAP. Coach to win, Dan. That’s all we ask. We want your relentless effort, on the sideline, and inside the headsets.

CAM_1101#2 Losing the In-State Battle (In Recruiting As Well): From 2009-2012, Mullen reignited and placed the utmost importance on the Egg Bowl rivalry, yet now looks absolutely lost for answers as he stares at the fire he once prodded. His mouth and actions have caused MSU fans to catch a whole lotta of misery, while being the butt of a lot of jokes at Christmas dinner. I hate to admit it as a State fan, but Hugh Freeze has completely owned Mullen head-to-head, with exception of the 2013 ‘miracle’ game. And, Freeze has done it without all the lip, or locker room gloating. I’m not above praising our biggest rival, or giving credit where it’s due, so I think there are some things Mullen could learn from Freeze. #1 Expand your recruiting footprint. I love Mississippi kids, and always want the best players in the state to end up in Starkville, but there are some major players across our fine country (outside the Southeast), who want a shot to play football in the SEC. Go get them! #2 Become More Aggressive Offensively. If you’ve watched teams like Ole Miss, Baylor, Oregon, and Oklahoma play this year, it’s easy to see how aggressive these teams are on Offense. The players trust their coach to put them in position to make plays, and the coaches trust their players enough to dial them up. Mullen’s coaching, outside of the Arkansas game this year, has been so conservative that it literally looks at times as if he doesn’t trust his players to go out and make a play, especially on 3rd down. Those same Offenses I mentioned earlier, even when they fail, continue to be aggressive and take more shots later in the game. Mullen however, calls so few plays like that, that when we fail to connect on a big play, it has a deflating effect, because  players and fans alike- know that was one of our few chances to hit a home run. Trust builds confidence, confidence can positively effect performance, and solid performance can provide better results. I also feel that being more aggressive on Offense, means that we have to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. I’m so happy for WR Fred Ross, who led the SEC in receptions this season- earning that 1st Team All-SEC honor, but I would like to see players like Gabe Myles and Malik Dear get more touches in 2016. Mullen has a history of being over-loyal to veteran players, even when there are better, younger options behind them (I’m not making this case against Ross, so don’t think that). I don’t know of any other coach in the SEC, maybe even the country, who has sat on young talent the way Mullen has. And, taking snaps doesn’t matter, I’m referring to putting the ball in their hands. Too few touches and too many TDs for guys like Dear and Myles, to not touch the ball more than they did this season (yes, I know they were injured for some of the season).

usa-today-8959485.0#3 This Current Team Needs to Get Stronger Mentally & Physically: It became very apparent early in the year, that running the football was NOT going to be a strength of this team. State rushed for more than 200+ yards only 3 times in 2015, and were held under 150 yards rushing on 8 occasions. But, the OL wasn’t much better in pass protection either. Do you know how many times Dak Prescott was sacked in our 3 biggest games of the year (OM, Bama, and LSU)? 19 times. That averages out to over 6 sacks per game. State also never won the time of the possession in 2015, but came close in the Egg Bowl, where the T.O.P. margin was less than a minute. Historically, MSU teams have been known for their physicality, but this year’s squad was anything but that. Now, I’m not one to call out a college kid by name- for clearly underachieving at his position, but I will say that the majority of our O-Linemen are slow, overweight, and lack athleticism. On top of that, they are about the softest group I’ve seen in recent history. Outside of Jamaal Clayborn, none of regular starting Line is nasty, or plays with a mean streak. And you have to have that to impose your will in the trenches of the SEC. In my opinion, John Hevesy has been our weakest assistant coach, because misses all the time on big OL talent in recruiting, and doesn’t develop what talent we actually have that actually makes it to campus. On D, tackling is another issue that has plagued MSU for the last several years. I don’t know if it’s the ‘Seahawk’ tackling style, lack of focus and poor pre-snap positioning, taking bad angles, or just a lack of toughness, but I would say that if missed tackles were a legit stat category, State would have led the nation the last 3 seasons. Don’t even get me started on how bad we look in the blitz game. Can we chalk that up to lack of a mean streak as well? I think so. That lack of aggressiveness plays such a big part in how you approach every play, on both sides of the ball. You have to have a ‘300’ mindset, and I know this may be cheesy to use a movie quote, but you have to have a “give them nothing, and take everything from them” attitude on the football field. So, who will supply this need to our team? HC Dan Mullen? Manny Diaz? In my opinion a new Strength Coach was needed anyway, so the departure of Rick Court may be a positive for this team. Regardless of who steps up, someone needs to, because our team has been displaying a conservative and almost passive demeanor in how they start, and in how long it takes them to respond in BIG games. It’s a toughness issue, if you ask me. Mental and physical.

Anyway, these are just some items that I would like to see addressed, and hopefully we will see some changes next season when the Dawgs take the field. If not, Mullen not be quite the commodity he is right now.

All I know, is that I want the 2009 version of Dan Mullen back on the sidelines in Starkville.

Egg Bowl Preview 2015

egg-bowl-trophyFor MSU and Ole Miss, the 2015 season has been somewhat of a roller coaster for both teams from the Magnolia state. For the Rebels, their season started as if they’d been fired from a canon of destiny, headed straight for a New Year’s 6 Bowl, routing anyone in their way. But, as invincible as Hugh Freeze’s team looked early on, the hits would come. If you could simply sum up their season in once sentence, it would be that ‘they couldn’t have played Bama or LSU at a better time, but that their dates with Florida, Arkansas, and even Memphis came at the worst’. For MSU, the story didn’t unfold much differently. In Mullen’s case, the Dawgs faced Bama, LSU, and A&M, when those teams were clicking on all cylinders, climbing their way up in the national rankings, removing State from any SEC West conversation.

The Lows of 2015
MSU: Missed game-winning FG as time expired vs LSU (21-19); Devastating turnovers and poor Defense at A&M (30-17); Failure to capitalize Offensively, while surredering explosive plays to Bama (31-6).
Ole Miss: The man-handling in the Swamp (38-10); Held a 14 point lead at Memphis, only to lose by 13 (37-24); Being outlasted in an amazing Offensive duel to Arkansas, in Oxford (53-52 OT).

The Highs of 2015
As for the highs of 2015, both teams would chalk up 4-game win streaks, doing so on the backs of 2 of the SEC’s best Quarterbacks, in Dak Prescott and Chad Kelly. Notable Wins: At the peak of their season and hot start, Ole Miss took home a win at #2 Alabama, while MSU topped a red hot Razorback team in Fayetteville, 51-50, avoiding a disastrous November, earning their 8th win.

So, just how good are these teams at the signal-caller position?
Chad Kelly: 3,504 yards passing, 64%, 25 TDs, 12 INTs; 353 rushing yards, 9 TDs.
Dak Prescott:
3,159 yards passing, 66%, 23 TDs, 3 INTs; 478 rushing yards, 9 TDs

Stat Matchup
Total Offense: OM- 518 ypg; MSU- 455 ypg
Rushing: OM- 175 ypg; MSU- 139 ypg
Passing: OM- 342; MSU- 312
Scoring: OM- 40 ppg; MSU- 33 ppg
3rd Down %: MSU- 41%; OM- 40%
Redzone Offense: MSU- 88% (26th); OM- 86% (43rd)

Total Defense: MSU- 380 ypg; OM- 386 ypg
Rushing: OM- 131 ypg; MSU- 165 ypg
Passing: MSU- 215 ypg; OM- 255 ypg
Scoring: MSU- 21 ppg; OM- 22 ppg
3rd Down %: MSU- 34%; OM- 38%
Redzone Defense: MSU- 75% (16th); OM- 82% (53rd)

imageStat Breakdown: If you noticed above, I have listed the leading team first in each statistic listed. OM claims all but 3rd down % in the Offensive categories, while State claims 4 of the 5 Defensive categories. The way that I sum up the differential, is that the Rebels average about 4 more explosive plays per game than MSU, which gives them the +44 yds in rushing avg, and +30 in the passing avg. Defensively, this matchup is about as even as it gets, especially considering the YPG and Scoring categories, which are what matters the most to a Defense. Though the names might be more popular on the Rebel’s Defensive side of the ball, the fact is, these 2 teams are a whole lot more similar than you may think.

d7fc8a6d-f036-403d-85f3-2c58c4e9f7f8-OleMissQBChadKellyAPThomasGraningAreas of Concern for MSU: (#1) on my list, has to be finding a way for the Bulldog D to limit the mobility of Chad Kelly. As concerned as you should be about his arm strength and accuracy, his ability to scramble, and his role in the read-option run game, can make or break a game for opposing Defenses. I know State fans don’t want to hear this, but the kid is extremely quick, and in all reality is as tough as Prescott when it comes to taking hits. He can pick up tough 3rd downs when no one can get open, and can bust a 50 yd game-changing run on a designed call. I can’t help but to think about the A&M, Auburn, and LSU games this season, where a QB who is not known for running- killed the Dawgs at times with their feet, extending drives on critical 3rd downs. (#2) Area of concern, is State’s inability to get to the QB when it blitzes, outside of the front 4 on the DL. In my opinion, I would play zone, have a spy on Kelly, and just let the big boys in the trenches provide most of the pressure. State has never, and I mean never, during the time of Diaz or Collins, had the ability to quickly get to the QB on a consistent basis. Instead, the blitzers seem to always get swallowed up at the line, while the play develops as normal behind them, resulting in big gains. So, in my opinion, sacrifice some pressure, in order to limit big plays, by having more defenders out in space. (#3) in State’s 3 most recent losses to Ole Miss, the Rebel D has had a field day. Yes, there were times when State moved the ball, and moved it well, but it seems that OM plays risky, with an edge, and almost overly aggressive, yet it always pays off. Because if this, Dan Mullen cannot call this game close to the vest. He has to allow Dak Prescott to be Dak Prescott, and open this offense up, similar to what we’ve seen against Arkansas, UK, and Mizzou. If anything, he has to have learned his lesson last season in Oxford, by calling an overly-cautious, conservative game. As much as Hugh Freeze has cost OM games in the past, Mullen is just as suspect at times. (#4) Don’t bite. As we all know, Freeze loves to run packaged plays, and we also know he has a knack for when to call for that home run ball to be thrown. Earlier this season, State looked dismal versus Texas A&M, falling for every trick in the book, making the Aggie Offense tick like a Timex. If there was an underneath route that was suppose to draw the Safety’s attention, it did. Play fakes, motion, trickery, you name it, the Dawgs fell for it. Diaz has to teach his young men how to play with their eyes this week, while doing their individual jobs. (#5) My last area of concern, has to be the kicking game for State. To keep it simple, we have to have high, long, booming kicks to win the field position battle. If we look at P Logan Cooke’s track record in our biggest games, he’s good for 2 weak punts a game, usually gifting the opposition the ball on the Plus side of the field for them. We cannot give OM the short field, especially not on multiple occasions. Plus, we must put Weston Graves in range- on drives that we can’t come away with 7 points on. That means moving the ball enough to take away those ‘4 down territory’ coaching decisions, and giving Mullen confidence in Graves’ ability.

tumblr_inline_n7lkukZTOP1rggejxThe Honest and Ugly Truth about Both Teams : Ole Miss is extremely talented, hands down-no way around it, sorry State fans. But with all of that talent, the Rebels seem to come up short, even when they’re the media darling. Tunsil, Treadwell, and Nkemdiche, may all be 1st round picks, and may have started the positive snow ball effect for recruiting in Oxford, but what major accomplishments can they hang their hat on?…(Crickets). Your Offense has posted some gaudy numbers, but no one mentions the fact that 3 of your opponents this season, are among the top 5 worst Defenses in country, who also surrender the most explosive plays. Your Defense can be lights out, but gave up 605 yds to Arkansas, 508 to an LSU team that seems to be firing their head coach over a lack of…”Offense”. Plus, can your coach manage the game when it’s on the line?  For MSU, your best win is against Arkansas, who will more than likely be a 7-win regular season team. Your 4-game win streak, was against La Tech, Mizzou, UK, and Troy, and you can no longer make any kind of positive arguments about your losses to LSU and A&M. As for your Offensive Line, it has been straight garbage at times this season, and they have only paved the way for 139 ypg on the ground. Did I mention they’ve surrendered 24 sacks this season? Your QB is solid, but you only have 1 RB with over 300 yds on the year, and your QB is the leading rusher. Can your coach handle a game this big? He didn’t last year, and hasn’t this year.

  MSU  37  OM 24—

First and foremost, if this MSU squad, along with Dan Mullen, do not provide Dak Prescott with all the arsenal he needs to go out in winning style, in his final game in Davis Wade Stadium, against State’s biggest rival, then this would feel like a super hero movie gone bad. And that’s ABSOLUTELY possible, because the Bulldogs are playing a very solid football team on Saturday night. So, for those of you seeking a rationale or explanation (yes, Rebels and Bulldog fans alike), here’s a glimpse of how I see Saturday night unfolding…
        #1 Believe it or not, State does not allow an opening possession TD to the Ole Miss Offense, therefore providing a much needed tone for the rest of the night on D. (MSU brethren understand how big of a deal this is). On the flip side, State does produce a score, taking the first lead of the game.
       #2 For some reason, I can see State getting more pressure on the Rebels than they have against anyone else all year, resulting in pressure that forces Chad Kelly into turnovers. My magic number is “3”. Kelly turns the ball over 3 times. Once in the run game, 2 on INTs.
      #3 Dan Mullen gives Prescott the keys to the Bulldog Offense in his final home game, and he doesn’t disappoint. Dak throws for 250+ yds, while running for 100 more, with 4 total TDs.
      #4 State has the ‘IT’ Factor on Saturday night. Whether it’s holding on tight for that tackle for loss, making a difficult 3rd down throw, run, or catch, or just simply wanting it more, State musters up the difference and makes those plays.
     #5 State doesn’t rush for a ton of yards, but besides the passing of Prescott, it will be well-timed explosive runs that bust the game open for State, breaking the will of the Ole Miss D, who is caught playing for the pass on too many occasions.

I do my best to be an unbiased writer-no matter how much I love MSU, so I want readers to understand, that in my mind, I just feel like State will have more in the tank on Saturday night, when these hated rivals face off. Throw in the emotions and leadership of this Senior Class, the home field advantage and atmosphere of Davis Wade, and Dak Prescott’s will to provide MSU fans with the Golden Egg on his way out, and I believe that these are all factors that will tip the scales on Saturday night, into the Bulldogs’ favor.
Go Dawgs!