01 October 2011
First, that thing on the 50 yard line was thug. And it was stupid. This team should have more class than that. We're Mississippi State, not Miami. Hopefully Mullen will ensure it never happens again. Now to the game.
Well, the message boards are blowing up and they're all saying what I expected them to say after today's loss. Seems to be a consensus that Chris Relf needs to sit.
I've been saying for some time that if Relf continues to improve his game the way he improved it last year that he would be drafted as a QB. I saw a kid who went from a talented athlete playing QB to a true quarterback with great athletic skill. After Michigan, I was excited to see him grow more. Well, that's obviously not happening. In fact, I think it's safe to say he has regressed. This is not the same Chris Relf who shredded Arkansas, Ole Miss and Michigan last year. Some will say he's reached the height of his potential and simply can't get better. Some will say he's taken a lot of hits and his body is simply wearing down. Some (like me) will say that getting stopped at the 2 inch line at Auburn messed with the kid's psyche and he hasn't recovered. No matter the reason, our QB is struggling. But I don't believe he's the problem. I actually don't think Relf had that bad of a game. He made a few bad decisions (intentional grounding) and a few bad throws, but overall he wasn't that bad. Put it this way: changing quarterbacks won't make State a better team.
Yes, the offense is bad but that starts at the O-Line. And they got brutalized today. The UGA D-line dominated the line of scrimmage. There was nothing between the tackles and Relf was under constant pressure. The only time State had success moving the football was when they went outside the tackles with option plays and quick, short passes. Ballard and Perkins had a few decent runs but it was strictly their talent breaking tackles and avoiding opposing players in the backfield. There certainly weren't any holes available to run through. They rolled Relf out several times and he looked good doing it, but it wasn't a strategy they stayed with. Every time Relf tried to setup in the pocket he was quickly smothered by a Georgia D-lineman who'd beaten his man. Case in point: Third play of the game Addison Lawrence gets beaten badly by a bullrushing Georgia player and Relf gets a face full. That was a preview of things to come.
State's power running game is gone. And the deep passes they like to throw are gone as well because we can't protect our QB long enough for a receiver to get down field. This is the worst offensive line play I've seen in Starkville in a long time. And while I'd like to say that a lot of it is the competition, I have to remind myself that we played La Tech last weekend and it wasn't any better.
But this one wasn't just the O-line. Let's not forget the play of the game. Cam Lawrence had just made an amazing INT to setup the Dogs deep in UGA territory. Relf throws a perfect strike over the middle to Chris Smith and Smith deflects it right into the hands of a DB. Absurd. Catch that ball and it's probably a TD. It's not like Smith had a make an amazing catch. The ball hit him right in the hands.
Let's not forget about Arceto Clark. Once again, Relf delivers a perfect ball past a diving defender. Clark catches it then holds it like he's holding a briefcase. The ball is stripped, UGA recovers and kicks a field goal. That's two plays and 10 points that poor play at the receiver position cost us. That's not Relf's fault.
And what about special teams? After going three and out to start the game State's punt coverage flubs it. I counted at least 5 missed tackles as UGA returned it to the State 30, setting up a TD. Then, Swedenburg shanks one for eleven yards, setting up UGA at the State 22 for another easy TD. Then, Swedenburg drops a snap setting up UGA for an easy score but fortunately the State defense held. You have to get better execution from your punter and, for pete's sake, tackle the guy after he catches the punt!
And what about play calling? I haven't been too critical of Koenning's calls this year but now I'm concerned. State marches the ball down the field with quick-hit passing and running outside the tackles. They get in the red zone and run two straight up the middle for a total of 2 yards. They can't convert on third and settle for a FG. The option wasn't run at all until the third quarter. State was effective at rolling Relf out of the pocket but they only did it a few times, choosing instead to set him up in the pocket and try more downfield throws. It didn't work. We don't have the personnel on the O-line for that. If I can see it, surely Les Koenning can. The point is: this is much deeper than just a QB problem.
On a lighter note, congrats to the defense. They played an outstanding game. Yes, they gave up 24 points but 17 of those were after UGA started a possession deep in State territory. UGA moved it on Wilson's unit on ONLY ONE drive. The secondary looked good. Banks and Broomfield had blanket coverage most of the game but Murray was accurate and the UGA receivers wouldn't drop anything. They have a great TE that created some matchup problems for us. But overall the D looked good. They stuffed the UGA offense in the second half and were very effective at stopping the power running game that UGA wanted. This is a unit that gets better every week and that's good to see.
Helmet Stickers: Darius Slay had the play of the game for State. Brandon Wilson and Cam Lawrence were all over the field making plays. Kaleb Eulls had some big stops and so did Josh Boyd. Looks like the D-line is starting to gel. Nickoe Whitley had a big INT. I also saw Dontae Skinner and Charles Mitchell make some key stops. It's just defense getting stickers this week. No one on offense earned it.
Now for some optimism. Yes, State is more likely to go 6-6 than 8-4. But the defense is playing very well. The LBs are growing into their position and the secondary is a turnover machine. We have great skill players on offense with lots of speed and big play potential. We have a capable QB who just needs to get his mojo back after losing it on the plains. And we have a young and battered offensive line. Yes, 6-6 is likely, but suppose those young offensive linemen learn as the season goes. Suppose Carmon and Saulsberry mend a little. State's offense CAN improve as the season goes. They could be a better team later in the season than what we see now. 6-6 is likely, but who knows what can happen as this young O-line grows and our QB gains a little confidence.