By Special Guest Columnist Mack Lundy
Long-time listener, first-time caller.
As this is Mississippi St./Auburn week, Michael McCoy suggested that I come by and chime in with my two cents from the perspective of an MSU fan. When the Michael speaks, the Mack listens.
I agree with many of the statements you made in your preview, and I similarly feel this iteration of MSU/AU will likely be substantially different than most, if not all, of those in my lifetime prior to now. Not that our respective offenses will necessarily explode on every possession, or even that the total offensive production will drastically differ from years past; but rather, the styles and philosophies of offense are simply hereto for unknown in our regions of the SEC West. Excitement abounds, and for good reason.
For the sake of clarity, I'll follow your format and review each aspect of the team in turn, followed by my final thoughts.
Though we supposedly ran the West Coast Offense under Croom (and who knows what the hell under Sherrill), we have always indeed been most successful offensively out of traditional, power formations. If I may be so bold as to posit any position at which we regularly maintained NFL-esque talent, that position would have to be running back. Quarterbacks and other skill positions were always an afterthought. Now, in our first year (or, more accurately, week) of Mullen's version of the spread, our strategy may be different but our experienced talent is the same. Uncertainty at the QB spot, youth at the WR position (albeit quality youth--Bumphis, a UF recruit Mullen brought with him, seems very impressive for a true freshman), a shaky and thin line, and at least four deep at RB, with one bona fide stud leading the pack in Dixon. Unless Mullen's comments during the offseason were misleading, we have yet to see the true flavor of the offense because of Dixon's absence last week. The rotating QBs likely won't end anytime soon, for better or worse. I too was impressed with Relf (impressed with his passing as much as anything--didn't he finish 7-10, with a couple of TDs?), and Tyson is scrappy and seems to take care of the ball reasonably well (his career completion % is surprisingly high), but it all starts and ends with Dixon. Word is he's in the best shape of his life, and that this week at practice he's been a beast because of last game's suspension. Mullen has maintained that the offense will more or less revolve around Dixon, so other than knowing that Relf seems well-qualified to run the option, I'm no more sure what to expect offensively than y'all. I think your "run to set up the pass" prediction is fair, though I won't be too surprised to see as much, or more, inside running than outside.
We definitely lost some talent off of last year's squad (Derrick Pegues, for example), and are lacking in returning starters more than in the recent past. However, I think we've got some reasonably solid talent near the top of the depth chart, at least up front. You noted that last year's defense was statistically weak, and that we may thus have problems at all positions against SEC competition. Obviously I can't disagree with the stats, but I think a couple of things are important when considering our defenese--(1) last year was our first under Croom withouth current South Carolina coordinator Ellis Johnson running the defense, and I think his absence hurt us as much as it helped SC; (2) our offense was about the worst of the worst in college football, so the defense certainly didn't get any help; and (3) we had key injuries, not the least of which was Chaney being out all year, that hurt us badly on that side of the ball. Anyway, that's my roundabout way of saying that I think there's more quality on the defense this year than last year's stats let on. Our starting LBs are among the best in the conference, and we've got some talent among the front four as well, especially in JUCO transfer Pernell McPhee. Our weakness may well be the secondary. Literally half of Jackson St.'s offense came on two long pass plays where our guys just got beat, so that definitely does not bode well. Interested to see how those guys respond and what the staff does not mitigate our lack of experienc/talent at the position. Also, and I'd have to watch the game again to know for sure, I think I saw less run blitzing against JSU than you did. We certainly kept 7-8 in the box here and there, but I honestly thought we generally let the front four handle the bulk of the work on their own. So what to expect on D--solid play from the front seven, but weaknesses in the secondary that may end up neutralizing whatever advantage(s) we have among the LBs. (I also must admit that I still don't have a great handle on Torbush's philosophy or our personnel, so take my comments for that in mind)
I generally agree with your take. Mullen runs the show a la Meyer (and Sherrill), the punter had a solid day while the PK did not. The two missed FGs annoys me greatly, but I saw the guy make 50+ yarders in the spring, so who knows. Maybe just first game jitters from a JUCO transer?
I'm looking forward to this game for all the same reasons y'all are--first SEC test for a new coach and new staff, and first "real" game of the year. I'm interested to see the "new and improved" Dixon in action, and I'm interested to see which QB's strengths best allow us to compete with quality defense like Auburn's. We're so young, and our offense is still so new to the players, that I'd be surprised if we pulled out a win this weekend in a night game on the road. Not sure about being 14 point underdogs considering the similar circumstances of the programs, and the results of our last two meetings (a 19-14 win for us, and 3-2 win for y'all), but you never know. As a State fan, you've always got to assume the worst. My head often gives us a chance, while my gut always prepares for a crap sandwich. We shall see.