Mississippi State football: 5 biggest problems Joe Moorhead has to fix. Now
After losing to Florida 13-6 on Saturday night, Mississippi State suddenly finds itself at 3-2 (0-2 in SEC) after a hot start to the season. With contests against No. 8 Auburn, No. 5 LSU and Texas A&M looming, the amount of time to get things turned around is extremely limited.
It’s no secret that the biggest problem in the two losses has been the offense. The defense has had its moments of poor play, but by and large, they’ve been as good as advertised. They’re No. 2 in the SEC in yards allowed per game at 286.8 and No. 5 in points allowed per game at 13.4. They’re doing their part to help win games.
The offense, however, is another story. After averaging 50 points in their first 3 games, they’ve averaged just 6.5 the past two weeks. In their past 8 quarters of play they’ve found the end zone just once. I know they’ve gone against two solid defenses in Kentucky and Florida, but with the talent on hand this simply isn’t good enough, especially considering Joe Moorhead’s background.
Here are five things that Moorhead has to fix before things spiral even further out of control. Unsurprisingly, they’re all on offense.
5. Protecting QB
Whether Moorhead keeps Nick Fitzgerald at QB or makes the switch to Keytaon Thompson, the Bulldogs still need to improve in pass protection. Every QB likes a clean pocket to throw from, and it makes a considerable difference in a QB’s accuracy when he can set his feet before delivery. Considering accuracy woes are plaguing the Bulldogs, this would go a long way. The tackles were torched the past two weeks against speed rushers coming off the edge, and the line as a whole has struggled with stunts and blitz pick-up.
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4. Make better reads
After averaging 311.6 rushing yards in their first three games, the Bulldogs averaged just 80 the past two weeks. The line has its share of responsibility in this, but they haven’t been getting good reads from their QB.
In those two games, Fitzgerald had a combined 36 carries for 52-yards (1.4 yards per carry), while the two very talented RBs, Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill, combined for 24 carries for 108 yards (4.5 yards per carry).
One would think, well why doesn’t Moorhead get them the ball more? Well, the bulk of the rushing offense is from RPOs and read options, and Fitzgerald hasn’t been making the right reads. He has become flustered with his inability to pass the ball and is trying to take over games by running the ball, which has taken the State RBs essentially out of the offense.
3. Receivers, please help
Much of the responsibility for the horrible passing attack is due to problems under center, but the receivers have not helped matters whatsoever. This unit has consistently struggled to get separation and win one-on-one matchups downfield. The number of drops is alarming. Think about how much different things would have been had Osirus Mitchell not dropped an easy TD pass early in the game against Florida.
2. Improve passing game
The passing game has been absolutely abysmal, and there’s really no way to sugarcoat it. They absolutely have to get better play from their QB. The receivers and line haven’t done much to help, but ultimately it falls on Fitzgerald, who’s averaged just 121.5 passing yards the past two weeks, with a paltry 4.1 yards per attempt and completing just 46 percent of his passes.
Moorhead’s offense thrives when the QB can complete passes and take shots downfield to stretch the defense, which opens up everything underneath and allows for plenty of running room.
Fitzgerald’s inability to complete passes downfield put the brakes on the offense as a whole. For the Bulldogs to turn this thing around, they have to improve the passing game, whether it’s by making a change at QB and WR or adjusting the depth of the routes and the timing of the patterns, they have to start completing passes.
1. Find confidence under center
Finally, the offense needs a confident leader under center. Maybe it’s just me, but Fitzgerald hasn’t looked confident the past two weeks, especially as games wear on and the incompletions add up.
It’s not just a lack of confidence in the pocket, either – it’s in the huddle, on the sidelines, after a dropped pass, conversing with Moorhead, etc. The whole nine yards. I can’t stand pundits who consistently whine about body language, but the Bulldogs need someone with noticeable confidence to lead his teammates when they’re down in the fourth quarter.
Fitzgerald seems to be getting down on himself, and I can only imagine the amount of pressure he’s under, not only from coaches, fans, media and teammates, but himself.
He’s a proud guy who knows his talent, and he knows he hasn’t been playing up to his ability. It seems like his poor play is affecting his confidence, and that’s impacting the offense. The Bulldogs absolutely need a confident leader in the huddle and in the pocket if they’re going to have a chance at upsetting one of the heavyweights in the next couple of weeks.