Dogs' Best Defense Is Fast Offensive Start

FORT LAUDERDALE -- The gameplan will be as detailed as usual. But to Dak Prescott the Orange Bowl theme is really simple for Mississippi State. Score first and score fast.

“We’ve just got to come out and start off fast,” quarterback Prescott said. “Every game of the season we’ve stated off fast and done really well, set the tempo and made the other team play our style.

There’s no real argument against Prescott’s point. Or points. 2014 was the year Mississippi State scored at a literally-unprecedented pace, with a record 446 points produced. For perspective, the old mark was 390 points, set in 2000 when even the oldest of current Bulldogs was just out of kindergarten. Whole sections, team and individual, of the record book already need re-writing…and that’s without adding the yards and points State will produce Wednesday evening in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

It’s just that all those statistical numbers will be far more fun to read after a victory. Which would be another record by the way, the first 11-win campaign ever at Mississippi State. There is a Georgia Tech team lining-up between the Bulldogs and history though.

So, per Prescott, “ We have to do the same with Georgia Tech, get up on them and make them play from behind.”

Now, when Prescott said ‘every game’ he meant those ten contests won by the Bulldogs. In most of their victories State was setting the pace on both the field and the scoreboard, often decisively so. Even in tighter games the Dogs made more happen with the ball over four quarters. The exceptions? The two losses, which by no coincidence produced the fewest yards of this record-setting season. And, 20 or fewer points.

No wonder then there’s so much incentive to establish offensive control immediately. Yes, the Dogs feel it. Just see what 1,000-yard runner Josh Robinson said Monday when asked about beating an aggressive Yellow Jacket defense.

“It’s all about us, our preparation. We can’t worry about nobody else. All we can worry about is playing Mississippi State ball and executing our assignment.”

Prescott offers more respect, as a quarterback and team captain should. Yet when the ball is snapped Wednesday? “I’ll take me and my offense,” said Prescott.

“I know they’re a good defense, they’re fast, they get in the right spot, caust a lot of turnovers. But we just have to play within ourselves, start off fast and make them play from behind.”

ON THE OTHER HAND…Think setting up defenses for an entirely strange sort off offense is challenging? Try learning and replicating said offense. It says much good about Mississippi State’s backups, reserves, and redshirts that they’ve given their varsity defense a reasonably-good feel for Georgia Tech’s option attack.

“They’re doing a great job,” linebacker Beniquez Brown said during campus bowl camp. “The look they’re giving us, that’s going to help us be prepared. But,” Brown added to be clear, “at the end of the day you can’t really simulate how Georgia Tech runs.”

They can try though. And with redshirt quarterback Nick Fitzgerald distributing the ball to backs Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams, Mississippi State actually has the pieces to build an option offense…if they ever consider changing from Coach Dan Mullen’s spread-system. Right, that is most unlikely.

Then again the version of a spread scheme Mullen prefers does have some option elements. Always has in fact, as fans will recall when Chris Relf would go to an end and either bull on ahead himself or pitch to Vick Ballard. Sometimes those pitches even happened far downfield for great big gainers. Most of these plays went into reserve with Tyler Russell passing from the pocket.

For that matter the spring-practice emphasis on making Prescott a better-rounded passer has come at the expense of some option run plays. Yet at points during the season Prescott and Robinson did get a good keep/pitch game going, productively. Will it be a bigger part of the 2015 offense? Not even the coach can say now; spring camp will be a better indicator.

For now all the option-ing is done by the scout offense. Which by happy chance Fitzgerald operated, a veer-scheme, in his one high school season starting. So Mullen was able to ‘install’ a decent option for the varsity defense to practice against. Plus it was bowl camp with extra time for install. Prepping for an option during the regular season’s shorter schedule?

“I think that’s one of the challenges, is getting your scout team to be able to simulate those plays,” Mullen said at bowl site camp. “Because it’s so different from what you’re used to doing.”

At the same time, the Bulldog coach adds, “For us hopefully they’re having a very hard time simulating our spread, and our style of defense that we play.”

Mullen has a point there, about mimicking Mississippi State’s offense. To be sure Georgia Tech has seen its share of spreads this season, and from widely-varying sorts of rosters whether in scheme or speed or strength or all the above. Still the numbers say the Yellow Jackets give up ground, nearly 400 total yards per game.

And that has to be put in a perspective of real interest to the Bulldog offense. Because Georgia Tech controls the football so long on offense, this means the yards allowed come fast and often in big bunches.

The best way might be a, shall we say, flying start? State has certainly noticed 63% of passes against Tech are caught, and while the Dogs aren’t a throw-first offense, well...the route-runner are more excited than usual.

“I think we’re under-rated as physical receivers,” Gabe Myles said. “I think we can take on blocks and get by players. It’s going to be fun to see what we can do against them.”

All the more fun if Mississippi State does it first and fast and best. Because as important as scouting and scheming has been on that side of the ball, the best defense in this matchup looks like a great offensive effort. And execution, as Robinson reminded.

“Once you do that, that will determine how your game goes.”

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