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Mississippi State Offense: Fear the Bulldogs....Passing Game?

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The forward pass has finally made it to Starkvegas.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

I watched the first half of the Mississippi State game vs Southern Miss game expecting to see the traditional “run it until the other team gives up” offense from the Bulldogs, and buddy was I surprised. Tommy Stevens came out chucking the ball around the field like he was running the air raid. I was interested to see what Joe Moorhead’s offense looked like with a quarterback comfortable in the system he brought from Penn State, and it looks pretty good.

Here are a few key plays from the first half of the Mississippi State vs Southern Miss game.

Osirus Mitchell is a problem

This is the Bulldogs first possession, and it ends with a 28 yard touchdown pass to Osirus Mitchell.

I’ll break this play down a little further because the camera angle isn’t great.

The first thing you need to know about this play is Mitchell (blue box) is a giant receiver. He’s listed at 6’5, 210 and looks every bit of that.

USM is obviously in man coverage. Stevens has one read on this play since the USM corner (red circle) is at such a size disadvantage. His read is the USM strong safety (yellow circle). If the safety drops off into coverage, he goes to another option. If the safety stays down close to the box, he’s going over the top to Mitchell in man coverage.

Stevens reads the safety, the safety doesn’t bail out, and it’s all over for USM.

The ball is in the air right now, and Mitchell has his man beat. The safety on his side doubled the tight end in the middle of the field, and the free safety has no shot of getting over to Mitchell on the opposite hash. Even if the USM corner isn’t a step behind at this point, Stevens is throwing it, because the corner doesn’t matter on this play. The read is 100% the safety, Stevens has no qualms about throwing the ball and trusting his 6’5 receiver to make the catch over the corner.

The corner is actually in decent position, but Stevens puts enough air under the ball that it doesn’t matter. Mitchell is covered from the waste down, but open from the waste up. The USM corner can’t jump with Mitchell. The only thing he could have done to stop the touchdown was to tackle Mitchell before the ball makes it to him and give up 15 yards instead of a touchdown.

He doesn’t and it’s 7 easy points for the Bulldogs.

Reading the Safety Once Again

Did I mention that Mississippi State has two giant receivers? Stephen Guidry (#1) is listed at 6’4, 200, giving the Bulldogs two guys that can go up and get it.

I feel bad for the safety (#19) on this play, because just like the first touchdown, Stevens is reading him all the way. If he drops off he most likely goes to Mitchell on the out route in man coverage. If he bites on the run fake, he makes the easy throw to the void in the middle of the field.

I marked the players briefly in the GIF, but I’ll give y’all the still as well.

Stevens is reading the safety in the yellow circle. The receiver in blue is running a skinny post to the back of the end zone.

Stevens has just completed the fake, and is staring directly at the safety in the yellow circle. He’s coming forward, and it’s all over but the execution of the throw and catch.

The safety in the pink triangle isn’t in the play because the route (blue arrow) takes the wide receiver inside.

The safety in the orange is matched up with the other giant outside receiver. The middle of the field is wide open for the touchdown.

This is easy money for the touchdown. You won’t get a more wide open throw.

The Takeaway

I thought I was going to write an article about the Bulldog running game, but came away writing about the vastly improved passing game.

Don’t get me wrong, if Kansas State can’t stop Hill and the running game, the passing game doesn’t matter, because Moorhead is more than willing to run the ball down your throat if the opportunity is available.

This year, however, he’s comfortable throwing the ball with Stevens if the defense stacks the box. The Wildcats have to stop the run with the front 7, because once you start walking safeties down to stop the run, the Bulldogs are more than happy to throw the ball into single coverage to their giant receivers.

I think you’ll see the Bulldogs test the Wildcats secondary deep early in the game to set the tone and keep the safeties out of the box. Safety play is going to be critical on Saturday.