Mullen’s Calls Must Be Efficient to Beat LSU

Last week’s win over South Carolina featured many positives that fans were clamoring to see. Mullen answered the bell with much more fire, emotion, and the team followed suit. The offense gained an identity under the leadership of Nick Fitzgerald and the defense played with an edge. While last week’s effort was a breath of fresh air, Mullen’s coaching was all over the place and the more talented LSU Tigers will require a more precise game-plan for the Dogs to pull the upset.

Mullen can get away with certain things against the likes of South Carolina that he can’t against the upper-echelon teams in the SEC. A perfect example was the use of RB Brandon Holloway last week. Holloway can do some nice things on offense if he is used to his strengths. Against South Carolina he had 15 carries for 48 yards. One of his carries was went for 22 yards. That leaves us with 14 carries that gained 26 yards. That’s a whopping 1.8 ypc.

The reason Holloway is struggling so much with many of his carries is the design of the plays not featuring his strengths. With Fitzgerald at QB, the offense has shifted to a much more option and read oriented team. The bulk of the carries have come on plays where Fitzgerald is reading either the DT or DE, depending on the offensive blocking scheme. What that involves is a QB/RB mesh point that creates a slow developing running play.On the gives to the RB, you’re not giving it to a back going downhill at 100 mph. Often times the back is slowing down to make sure there is a flawless ball exchange. So you mean to tell me you want a 160 pound RB meshing right behind the OL in a mish-mash of 300 pound men? If history is any indicator, that’s a wasted play.

This is an interesting spot for Mullen. You have a senior, Brandon Holloway, who has earned the stating spot but the scheme that best fits the QB does not best fit Holloway. The first thought is that Holloway needs to be a pitch man more often but we haven’t seen a ton of triple option. It’s been more of a QB/RB option or a run pass option. You could run speed option out of the single back set with Holloway but that might not be the best bet against LSU’s defense. Holloway’s strength is getting the ball on the edge going full speed. Mullen has to figure out a way to do that because wasting 14 plays of the inside option game with Holloway won’t beat anyone with a pulse in the SEC.

Although the running game issues was what drew the most ire from the fans, the special teams had a few head-scratchers that cannot happen going forward. The second drive of the game up 7-0, Fitzgerald leads another drive right down the field that ended up stalling inside the 5. What does common sense dictate to do in this situation? Easy. Kick the field goal. Not only that, MSU has a kicker who missed a heart-breaking game losing field goal the previous week. Get him a bunny to get the positive vibes back flowing to go up 2 possessions.

The easy decision must not have been as easy as it seemed as Mullen decided to go for it and get stuffed. The MSU offense who has been rolling to start the game now gets to trot to the sideline coming up empty as opposed to coming in with heads high for racking up more points. As the game ended up tightening 27-14 you now saw how huge those points are. As the Central Michigan game showed us earlier that day, games aren’t over until the final whistle. A 13 point lead can evaporate to 6 with the visitors lining up for an onside kick in seconds. The MSU defense finished strong and it didn’t come to that but you get the point. If that game is 30-14, it’s over and those thoughts don’t even have to enter your mind.

The other special teams gaff was the fake punt that got stuffed. When you’re up 24-0 and have all the momentum, faking a punt from midfield is an asinine decision. I don’t care if the other team lines up wrong and it’s there. You punt the ball, pin them deep, and let your defense (which has been lights out to that point) go to work. Failing to convert breathed new life in to a team that was dead on the field. That kind of recklessness gets you beat.

The last 2 years have been some of the most competitive LSU games of my lifetime. Two years ago the Dogs were able to come away with a huge victory in Death Valley that set the tone for the rest of the season. With the unrest LSU has at QB and Leonard Fournette being less than 100%, that opportunity is in play. To do that it will take the same effort and emotion MSU fans saw last week but it will also require a big improvement in coaching smart and efficiently. 14 carries on option plays inside the tackles to Brandon Holloway will get you beat. Wasted plays get you beat. Not taking points when it’s the easy choice will get you beat. Reckless special teams decisions like fake punts will get you beat. Winning this game is possible. If MSU can get fiery Dan Mullen back but mixed with green tea instead of gun powder, anything can happen.

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