Even if he can't pull off the upset vs. LSU, Joe Moorhead has a prime opportunity win back fan support
I’m gonna say something that can’t actually be proven by anything more than social media reaction. Dangerous, I know.
Joe Moorhead’s approval rating is at an all-time low.
The guy who was supposed to take the reins of Dan Mullen’s program and elevate it is 3-3 with a daunting road ahead. His offense ranks No. 82 in the country and even worse, the passing game that was non-existent last year is ranked dead last in the SEC and No. 109 nationally.
A year and a half into his tenure into Starkville, the guy who was heralded as one of the top up-and-coming offensive minds still has an offense without an identity. That was evident in a 10-point effort against lowly Tennessee last Saturday, which marked the 7th time in 11 SEC games that his team was held to 24 points or less. Those continued struggles are why he’s being rumored as a candidate for potential Power 5 openings back in his native Northeast part of the country.
Now, LSU comes to town. You know, the team that intercepted MSU 4 times and held the passing game to 59 yards in a 19-3 LSU victory last year. More recently, LSU is the team that owns the nation’s top offense and is ranked No. 2 following an impressive win against Florida.
That’s why LSU is a 19-point road favorite to win in Starkville, regardless of how intimidating Davis Wade Stadium is. You won’t find anyone predicting that Moorhead’s offense will even stay on the field with the revamped Tigers, who have become all the rage thanks to Joe Brady, who was a grad assistant on Moorhead’s offensive staff at Penn State.
What a perfect opportunity for Moorhead to dig that approval rating out of the basement.
You see, Saturday isn’t a “win-or-bust” game for Moorhead. MSU fans are smart enough to know that it would take a South Carolina-type miracle to beat a team like LSU. Expectations couldn’t be much lower, especially after how vastly different both teams looked in their respective games last Saturday.
Moorhead can lose and still win back fan support. All he has to do is what he was hired to do. Score. Score again. And score some more.
Show that the offense isn’t totally lost. Actually have meaningful offensive possessions in the second half against the No. 2 team in the country. Get the cowbells going after picking up key first downs. Make people think, “hey, maybe this guy isn’t destroying everything that Mullen built.”
Speaking of Mullen, his offense’s performance against LSU showed why MSU — dare I say — can actually have some success on Saturday. I know, I know, I know. Moorhead’s quarterback situation is a mess — Garrett Shrader is finally getting the start — and the ground game struggled mightily in MSU’s past 2 games.
But this LSU defense has its weaknesses. It was a short 3 weeks ago in which Lamical Perine was held to 2.6 yards per carry and Kyle Trask was sacked 3 times against Towson. It was a different story a couple of weeks later against LSU. The Gators moved the ball well and sustained drives against LSU in Death Valley. Florida’s inexperienced offensive line did a good job protecting Trask and giving Perine and Emory Jones some running lanes. LSU also struggled to wrap up at times.
Lamical Perine isn’t the flashiest runner but you’ve gotta love his give a damn pic.twitter.com/pf0YSdWzvu
— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) October 13, 2019
In 3 games against Power 5 offenses, LSU allowed an average of 35 points. Granted, MSU is more 1-dimensional than Florida and Texas, but even Vanderbilt’s No. 119-ranked offense put up by far their best showing of the year with 38 points against the Tigers.
At home, there are going to be opportunities to score against this LSU defense. Whether MSU is capable of keeping pace with Joe Burrow and the LSU offense for 60 minutes is a different discussion. But even losing a 42-34 game would at least be a sign of progress.
Heading into 2019, MSU was given a bit of a pass on defense from its fan base. At least it should have after losing 3 first-round defenders to the NFL Draft. But offensively, there was no excuse for Moorhead not to establish his identity. Not with that quarterback room and Kylin Hill back.
He knows that. As frustrated as MSU fans are by the lack of offensive progression, they can at least take solace in knowing that Moorhead is the last person who’s going to put lipstick on a pig. He’s well aware that his turnaround needs to happen in a hurry or else he’ll at the very least be all over offseason hot seat lists heading into Year 3.
And if you don’t think he gets it, well perhaps you missed this comment after Saturday’s loss:
Moorhead said it was hard to see his daughter crying on the field at Neyland Stadium after last week’s game. He said it was hard to console her while walking off the field to people telling him that “he sucks.”
“But they were right, on that day I did suck.” pic.twitter.com/3i7qyhPIJs
— Mackenzie Salmon (@mackenziesalmon) October 14, 2019
Moorhead has home games against the top 2 ranked teams in the country in the latter half of the schedule. His team will be heavy underdogs in both, and with losses in both, Moorhead will have fewer regular season wins in Year 2 than he had in Year 1. That’s his reality after dropping winnable games as the favorite against Kansas State and Tennessee.
The bar is low right now. Real low. Deliver some “where did this come from” offensive performances in the latter half and Moorhead will see how quickly perception can change.
But it has to start Saturday.