26 September 2011
Before anyone asks, no, I am not worried. I've said all along that this year's team will be better than last year's and I stand by that. They may not have a better record, and because of a tough schedule they may not even have the same record but I stand by the notion that they are better. I stand by it even after the Dogs edge out La Tech in overtime.
State is still a very good football team and I continue to be impressed by their defensive play each week. We know what the offense is capable of and if the defense continues to improve like this it will be a good October-November for Bulldog fans. So what gives? Why did a good State team need overtime to beat a decent but overmatched La Tech team? Well, Mullen said it best at the end of the game. The guys are playing tight and not having fun. The expectations have affected them negatively, and I tend to agree. Now, it's Mullen's new challenge to teach his kids how to play with that kind of pressure and I believe he will. He's won national championships. I think he's capable of teaching a perennial losing program how to win and how to deal with the pressure of high expectations.
That being said, there are a few things that do concern me. First, what is going on with Chris Relf? He is becoming a very streaky player and that's not what you want in a QB. The past two weeks he's looked brilliant on some drives, and then will go out the next drive and lay an egg. He's overthrowing his deep balls, he's not showing the decisiveness that made him great at the end of last season and he's looking very nervous in the pocket. More nervous than a senior with 2 years of starting experience should look. He seems to be in a mode of "don't mess up" more than a mode of "make a great play". No doubt Relf's body has been beat up this year, but I think his problem is above the neck. And I think it all started with the goal-line stop at Auburn. Since then he's been a different player. It's created an inner demon that he just can't shake. His confidence is hurt and I don't know what it's gonna take to get back on track. But we need him to step up and lead this offense in the worst way. Hopefully that beautiful fade pass to Perkins on Saturday is just the medicine Relf needed.
Second, the offensive line had a bad game on Saturday. Maybe it's because La Tech was stacking the box with 8 guys, I don't know. But our front 5 seemed to get it together fairly well against Auburn and LSU and then take a step back this past Saturday. State couldn't run between the tackles. The only success they had was with the sweep. That's not gonna cut it in Athens. A lot of it has to do with Relf's play, the better he passes the easire it becomes for MSU to run. But, still, when you can't push La Tech off the ball for one or two yards on third or fourth down there is a problem.
One thing's for sure, there are some things to work on this week. Perhaps most important among them if for State to remember how to have fun, how to play loose and relaxed. If there is one thing that distinguished this team from last year it is that. Last year State was the underdog. There wasn't the pressure of high expectations. They had fun and it showed on the field. This year, it doesn't look fun for them. That's Mullen's challenge and it's a tough one.
On the positive side, you gotta love the play of the LBs Saturday. Brandon Wilson, Cam Lawrence and Matthew Wells all played well. The secondary looked good against a potent pass offense, which bodes well for the Arkansas game. Chris Wilson challenged them and they basically won the game with two key turnovers. Nickoe Whitley continues to leave his mark (literally) on opposing receivers. Between him, Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner I'm not sure who hits the hardest and I don't want to find out. Kaleb Eulls had a good game for the second straight week.
And once again I say to opposing QBs: Do NOT throw at Johnthan Banks. That's three INTs in three consecutive games. Keep throwing his way and you're just padding the kid's stats.
Now, about that Tech TD. Arguably one of the worst instant replay calls in football history. You have a ref standing right in front of the play, clearly he sees the receiver bobble the ball on his way out of bounds. Then you have a replay that shows the ball go through the receiver's hands and beyond that, no definitive video evidence of a catch. Yet, they say it's enough to reverse the official who had the best view. Ridiculous.
Helmet Stickers: Banks, Mitchell and Whitley for some dynamite secondary play. Brandon Wilson and Cam Lawrence had solid games at the LB position. Kaleb Eulls gets better every week. Chad Bumphis had an electrifying punt return and Vick Ballard carried the ball well despite having to dodge defenders in the backfield. DePasquale had some big kicks.
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