7 things we’ve learned about Mississippi State after 3 weeks
Mississippi State won decisively in its first 2 games.
It got off to a very good start in its SEC opener, leading LSU 13-0 on the road after 28 minutes.
But after that, the Bulldogs got outscored 31-3.
So State is still figuring out its identity, as many teams are in September, but here are 7 things we’ve learned about the Bulldogs after 3 weeks:
1. Time of possession is especially important
Time of possession is generally important.
But teams with big-play offenses and/or dominant defenses can succeed without possessing the ball longer than its opponents.
That’s not true of the Bulldogs. They are much better when they have the ball for more than 30 minutes.
Their offense is designed to gain yardage in relatively small chunks. And even though the defense is capable of shutting down offenses, it’s at its best when it stays fresh and the offense limits the number of defensive possessions.
State held the ball for more than 41 minutes in the victory over Memphis in the opener and nearly 37 minutes against Arizona the next week.
But it held the ball for barely 27 minutes against LSU, and the defense wilted in the heat.
2. The kicking game isn’t fixed
Head coach Mike Leach brought in 2 veteran kickers as transfers to upgrade the poor kicking from a year ago.
So the missed PATs have stood out. Massimo Biscardi missed the first 2 against Arizona and was replaced by Ben Raybon, who went 3-for-3 on PATs and made 2 field goals along the way. Then Raybon missed the first extra-point attempt against LSU.
But overall, Raybon has made all 3 field-goal attempts, so the kicking is far from being all bad.
It’s better than last season, but each miss from a short distance gets magnified.
3. Ball security is a problem
The Bulldogs have turned the ball over 7 times and have taken it away just 5. As a result, they’ve been outscored 26-13 on points off turnovers.
Additionally, the potential has been there for a worse disparity. State has recovered both fumbles that opponents have made, and it has held on to half of its own 8. If it keeps fumbling the ball 4 times more frequently than its opponents, the net result is likely to get worse.
4. The receivers are good, but inconsistent
The Bulldogs have a bunch of talented receivers, and they’ve all made plays.
Will Rogers has thrown 10 touchdown passes, and 6 different receivers have shared them.
But they also have dropped a bunch of catchable balls, especially against Arizona and LSU.
5. The running game is mostly a 1st-half deal
In each of the 1st 3 games, State has run the ball well enough to be balanced in the 1st half, then gotten away from the run in the 2nd.
Against LSU, it had 52 rushing yards while driving 87 yards to a touchdown on its 1st possession. The Bulldogs finished with 75 rushing yards.
6. The offensive productivity is shrinking
The offense has been progressively less productive as the weeks have passed.
Part of that might be attributable to taking the foot off the gas a bit after seizing control against Memphis and Arizona.
But it doesn’t explain it away.
The Bulldogs gained 34 1st downs against Memphis, 27 against Arizona and 15 against LSU.
They gained 547 yards against Memphis, 426 against Arizona and 287 against LSU.
7. SEC games are exams, not quizzes
State passed its first 2 quizzes with flying colors, then flunked its 1st exam of the season.
The Bulldogs will get quizzed again Saturday when they face Bowling Green at Davis Wade Stadium.
Then come 6 consecutive exams, starting with a big one at home against Texas A&M on Oct. 1.
State can’t afford to pass just the easy tests.