The Mississippi State Bulldogs played their hearts out on defense against the LSU Tigers this past weekend. LSU still scored 36 points. That is not a reflection of how bad Mississippi State is, but how good the Tigers are– that they can score that many points on what is a comparatively sluggish day at the office.
By Matt Zemek
The Bulldogs can’t lament a single thing about their defensive performance against LSU. That is the cornerstone of how they can compete with and beat Texas A&M in Week 9.
1 – Do it again
If Mississippi State plays as well on defense against A&M as it did against LSU, it will play a very close game and own a chance to win heading into the fourth quarter. Passion, physicality, being in the right place and sticking with assignments, red-zone toughness – MSU gained passing marks on so many fronts in its defensive display versus a top-two team with an elite offense. Part of LSU’s 36-point total came from the Tigers wearing down the Bulldogs. The defense played better than the final box score could ever convey.
Every player on the MSU defense needs to appreciate how well the defense played against LSU. Then, the Bulldogs have to go through the process of regrouping mentally and playing with that same energy against A&M. It is hard to play every game with the same hunger, but that is precisely what high-level programs manage to do. Empty the tank one week? Fill it up the next. It is a challenge, but that is what a struggling program has to absorb and apply if it wants to become a much better program – maybe not in 2019, but certainly in 2020.
2 – Offense in the final third of the field
Ole Miss outplayed A&M for two and a half quarters last weekend, but the Rebels were undone by how poorly they played when they had the ball inside the Texas A&M 35. Not finishing drives, and more specifically, coughing up a fumble A&M returned for a touchdown, gave the Aggies and their faltering offense a lifeline. When MSU gets the ball inside the A&M 35 in this game, it needs to find ways of finishing drives and getting A&M defenders out of position in a smaller more contained area of the field. The Mississippi State offense fell flat against LSU; this game offers a chance for the Bulldogs to get it right.
3 – The big play might need to come from the defense
Picking off Kellen Mond for a touchdown might be the more likely way for MSU to generate a game-changing play. If the offense can’t do it, the defense might have to. Studying film and knowing when to jump a short route is something the Bulldogs’ corners and linebackers have to be ready to do.