Nor is it ever as good.
This weekend was disappointing and I didn't particularly want to re-watch the A&M game but 1) I’m a glutton for punishment and 2) I got done watching the game Saturday afternoon and felt utter confusion. Arkansas played really well, but we were within 7 going into the fourth. It seemed like we had a lot of momentum and we’ve been in that position before. We pride ourselves on being a 4th quarter team, and somehow none of what we want to do in the fourth came to fruition. So here’s my take on a few things that went wrong. As always, feel free to use the comments to correct anything I got wrong.
DEFENSIVE FIRST-HALF WOES
After going back and rewatching the game, I don't think the defense played poorly in the first half. We gave up two big plays—one where their guy just flat out beat our guy, and a wheel route on the second. Wheel routes will get you every single time. Our linebackers are having trouble hitting the right gaps consistently, which leads to big plays. Giving up 309 in the first half is pretty bad, but we know what we did wrong and we can correct them with more time and experience.
But at the same time, all of this is going to be obvious information but our team isn't good enough for the defense to figure things out in the first half. 64% of our opponents' yards and 72% of our opponents' points come in the first half. We haven't given up a single point in the third quarter, which is great. And hey we’ve only given up 37 points this year, which is great too...but 27 of those points were given up in the first half—20 of them in the first quarter.
We’ll talk about the offense moving forward and sure in normal circumstances these stats should be good enough, but right now it’s not. It’s a bit of a gut check time for our defense. Are we elite? Or just elite at making halftime adjustments?
Our inability to execute on a high level cost us this game. We shot ourselves in the foot over and over again...and as much as I want to blame one unit, it was everyone. Whether it’s missed blocks by upperclassmen WRs, dropped balls by TEs, or offensive linemen trying to block in space only to have one single guy go by them and make the tackle...execution was poor.
Case in point: 2nd Quarter down 17. Drive starts at our 25 yardline. Achane gets 12 quick yards on two carries. Then a false start on a WR. Then big pass to Ainias Smith—which comes back due to illegal touching. Then a 6 yard pass to Achane—-which comes back due to a holding penalty. We’re at 3rd and 25 just trying to live to play another down...and we end up with an illegal formation penalty. That’s four out of our 11 penalties on one drive.
A good example of execution! Because there were good things! Look at the OL on this play
Beautifully executed. Aki drives his man downfield. Bryce picks up his guy, and Trainor comes over to help, allowing Bryce to knock the LB out of the way and Spiller does the rest. Just beautiful execution on all levels.
But then there’s bad news: we’re down 10 in the fourth with three minutes and some change. Not an ideal situation but it’s doable. We’ve got a do or die 4th and 1 and.....we end up with a false start. That’s not talent, that’s not scheme, that’s execution. And some of that might have to do with
I know this sounds like a creative buzzword by marketing guru Chet Norsworthy but it’s the only way I can describe what we’re missing right now. On the rewatch I didn't think the offensive line, on their own, played too poorly. Sure there were some missteps, but they weren't bad per se. Similarly, Calzada is limited but behind the right OL he could maybe do what we need him to do. But right now they’re just not working together. When Calzada has a pocket and is able to step into a throw he tends to do a pretty good job. But there are a lot of times where he has to bail out of the pocket, so he gets nervous. So then even if there’s a somewhat clean pocket that he could navigate from, he gets nervous bails, and then the OL has to reset to cover where he is. There’s no synergy between the two right now and it’s frustrating to watch.
This might be the most frustrating part of the entire game. When we were down 17 I told my 10-year-old son “all we gotta do is make it a one score game going into the fourth...this is what we do. Just make it a one-score game going into the fourth”. And lo and behold! It was a one-score game due to Isaiah Spiller's outstanding 67-yard run!
We had so much momentum. And we’d been here before. In 2020 we were down going into the fourth against Florida, Auburn, and North Carolina. This is what we do. Take a look at the stats for those games and how we operated:
- Florida, down 4, rushed the ball 13 times for 66 yards, attempted 5 passes, got 95 yards, and chewed up 9:17 of the clock.
- Auburn, down 6, rushed the ball 13 times for 73 yards, attempted 8 passes for 99 yards, and chewed up 10:59
- North Carolina, down 7, rushed 8 times for 119 yards, attempted 8 passes for 78 and ate up 8:27 on the clock
Surely we know how to operate with our all-American running back and his dynamite counterpart. Perhaps the run game hadn't been working great but we had something. Achane was eating up yards, Spiller was coming off that great run. Right?
- Arkansas, down 7, rushed the ball 1 time for 11 yards, attempted 8 passes for 31 yards, ate up 3:39 on the clock
We got beat in that fourth quarter, which is just maddening given that we are built to eat clock, run the ball, and steal a possession. I get that in 2020 we had senior QB and a senior OL and of course the offense is going to run better with both of those things...but the way we ran this fourth quarter just seems so out of character.
There’s a million-dollar question here as to whose call it was to throw a bunch. In the post-game press conference, when asked about the run/pass balance Jimbo said he needed to go back and look at the film, which says to me that he needed to go back and see what Zach was looking at because Zach is charged to count the box and check out of runs with a heavy box.
And if that’s the case, fine...but why are we having our QB do that when his head is spinning?
The game was there to be won. We just didn't do it.
Hats off to Arkansas. They executed better than we did and came out with a win. They’re a really well-coached program that believes in what they’re doing.
Our mission doesn't get any easier. Zach Arnett is a fantastic defensive coordinator and Mississippi State will definitely be watching this Arkansas film to find out how to confuse our QB and stymie our offense.
But much like this past weekend, it’s not all about what they do, it’s about how well we do what we are capable of doing. Can we execute at a high level and maximize our talent?
Guess we’ll find out Saturday.
BTHO miss st.