The Mississippi State Bulldogs didn’t achieve everything they hoped to achieve this season, but they didn’t fall apart when some people thought that was very possible.
By Matt Zemek
This season could have gone better, but it also could have gone a lot worse than it did. First-year head coach Joe Moorhead held his team together, but he couldn’t figure out a way to throw the ball with consistency or potency. MSU said goodbye to one offense-first head coach, Dan Mullen, and welcomed in another one (Moorhead), but the anchor of this team has been its defense the whole way through the 2018 campaign.
This forms the backdrop to Moorhead’s first Egg Bowl as MSU’s head coach. A win here would enable Moorhead to say that he preserved stability in the program and hit several targets – just not all of them. A loss here would be a sour plot twist and a downer this season doesn’t need. Moorhead needs the bright burst of added optimism at the conclusion of his first go-round in Starkville.
1 – MIX IT UP AND MIX UP TA’AMU
If you watched Ole Miss’s crazy and chaotic overtime loss to Vanderbilt this past weekend, you saw why the Rebels haven’t done very well this season. Head coach Matt Luke did a remarkable job under brutal circumstances in 2017, but he has not gotten through to quarterback Jordan Ta’amu this season. Ta’amu still forces a lot of passes into double coverage. He doesn’t process his reads very well and doesn’t see defenders he ought to be able to identify. Mississippi State’s defense, which knocked around Tua Tagovailoa and represented a legitimately tough obstacle for the Tide even on a day when MSU’s offense did not do much of anything, should feel it has the matchup advantage against the Ole Miss offense. Disguising looks and making sure Ta’amu questions the initial pre-snap assessments he makes – doing things to make Ta’amu overthink his processing of each play – represent the Bulldogs’ foremost priority on defense. Making Ta’amu guess is the straightest and most reliable path to victory in this game, because if Ta’amu plays poorly, it is very hard to see a path to victory for the Rebels in the 2018 Egg Bowl.
2 – POUND FOR POUND
The Bulldogs run the ball better than they throw it, so if they go up against an opponent which is vulnerable to a good rushing attack, there is no need for Moorhead to try to insist on leading with his passing game and setting up the run. Mississippi State should go straight at the Ole Miss defense with the ground game. Vanderbilt rushed for almost 200 yards against Ole Miss. If the Commodores could do that, MSU can do even better. The Bulldogs can impose their foremost offensive strength on the Rebels and take ownership of this contest – not just in terms of territory, but in terms of psychology. It is a way for Mississippi State to put the boot on the throat.
3 – CLEAN LIVING
27 to 11 first downs. 501 yards to 355. 294 rushing yards to just 108. 37.5 minutes of possession to just 22.5 minutes, a 15-minute advantage.
MSU owned the stats last year in the Egg Bowl. It lost. Why? Five turnovers.
Clean it up. Win.