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Mississippi State Defense: 3rd Down

The Wildcats have to stay on schedule if they want a chance to pull the upset in Starkville.

Erroll Thompson was first-team All-SEC in the preseason, and he’s not even IN this article. Yikes.
Erroll Thompson was first-team All-SEC in the preseason, and he’s not even IN this article. Yikes.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve watched a good bit of Mississippi State over the past few days. I wanted to see what they looked like with a revamped defense and a quarterback comfortable in the Joe Moorhead system. I’ll give y’all the offense in a separate article, because I want to take a look at the defense first. I’ve limited the film clips to the first half of the USM game, because I feel like that gives me the best information on the Bulldogs starting defense.

For the K-State offense, this game is going to boil down to staying on schedule. The Wildcats must win on first and second down, because the Mississippi State defense thrives on third and long. When their pass rushers can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback without a threat from the run game, bad things happen to the offense.

3rd and 6

This is a manageable down and distance for USM, but not ideal. They don’t have the running game to pick up 6 yards, and Bob Shoop (Miss St D. Coordinator) isn’t going to give USM time to throw the ball down the field.

On this play, Shoop fires his middle linebacker right through the A Gap. Kudos to the USM running back for picking up the perfectly time blitz and letting the QB get the ball off before getting turned into turf pizza, but the blitz requires the throw to go to the short crosser, and he gets taken down well behind the line to gain. Even though the blitz doesn’t get home, it gets the job done.

3rd and 10

3rd and 10 is death for most offenses against Miss St. because they can get to the quarterback with their front 4 and play coverage behind it.

The right defensive end, #42 (Marquiss Spencer) and the nose guard #54 (Fabien Lovett) run a stunt. The left side of the defensive line goes with a normal pass rush. There is no threat of a run on this play, so they’re free to go hard after the quarterback without a threat of a running back popping through the line for a big gain.

The left defensive end, #5 (Chauncy Rivers) smokes the right tackle and the defensive tackle, #90 (Lee Autry) is inches away from picking up the sack. The USM QB has no choice but to chuck it out of bounds. K-State should be able to individually block the Miss St. pass rush better than USM (obviously) but they’re going to get pressure more often than not.

3rd and 8

This is the only 3rd down USM picked up in the 1st half, but it shows you that if you can block up the Bulldogs, the middle of the field is vulnerable. In fact, USM did a nice job of throwing the ball between the hashes in the first half, but they couldn’t capitalize on a few nice drives.

Even though the defensive tackle, #90 (Lee Autry) beats his lineman fairly easily, USM has just enough time to hit their wide receiver running up the seam. This is a risky pass, because the safety is waiting in the middle of the field to blow it up, but it’s a pass Skylar is going to have to make on Saturday. The Bulldogs are vulnerable over the linebackers and in front of the safeties.

3rd and 22

USM is in a weird place on this play. Normally I would recommend just running a draw play on 3rd and 22, taking what you can get, and punting. That isnt’ an option when you’re in desperate need of a play to stem the Bulldog offensive momentum.

This is just a 3 man pass rush with the rest of the defense dropping into zone but Mississippi State has the athletes on the edge to get home. The left tackle ends up isolated and gets destroyed on the bull rush by #42 (Marquiss Spencer). To add insult to injury Spencer does an nice job of going in for the strip sack, and the USM QB turns the ball over. In retrospect...they should have run the draw.

3rd and 8

After the last turnover on 3rd down, USM decides to run the draw on 3rd and 8. The Bulldogs 2nd string left defensive end, #43 (Fletcher Adams) is in the backfield much faster than the USM can pull around and pick him up. The play is D.O.A. but at least they didn’t turn it over.

3rd and 3

On their final 3rd down attempt of the half, USM tries to outflank the Bulldogs with a screen pass. It looks like Shoop is bringing the corner, #8 Maurice Smitherman off the edge on a corner blitz, but Smitherman does a nice job of seeing the running back leaking out, puts on the brakes and give chase. The STAR (basically a safety/linebacker hybrid) #32, (Brian Cole) also sees this play coming and shows nice acceleration to cut down the back before he makes the line to gain.

I understand USM playing it safe close to their own goal line, but you’re not going to beat Miss. State by running across the field and letting them chase you down. When USM was successful in this first half it was they ran the ball straight up the field at the Bulldog defense.

The Takeaway

This game is going to come down to Kansas State’s ability to win 3rd down. The Wildcats have to stay on the field and keep the Bulldogs from grinding the defense into dust with their monster offensive line.

USM was able to move the ball on a few drives in the first half, but were shut down by Mississippi State on 3rd down. If the Wildcats want to win, they’re going to need to stay on schedule. Picking up 3rd and longs against a defense with athletic pass rushers of Mississippi State’s caliber doesn’t happen often.

What K-State is looking for is 3rd and 4 or less. They need the threat of the run to keep the pass rush off Skylar and subsequently keep the offense on the field. If the Wildcats can stay on schedule and win 3rd down, they have a shot to pull the upset on the road. If they are constantly looking at 3rd and 5 or more, it’s going to be a long game.