Bulldog Blockers Claim Responsibility for Opening Room to Run

He could gloss over the situation, or pass it off as work-in-progress. Not Justin Malone. Not when discussing the Bulldog ground game…or lack of one.

“We have to run,” Malone said. “We have to run the ball. That’s completely on us. We haven’t done it. We haven’t really done our jobs.”

The ‘we’ is about the entire offense. But the ‘us’ and ‘our’ is entirely and only about Malone’s unit. The veteran left guards pins responsibility for giving Mississippi State a real rushing attack falls completely on this offensive line. “People say we’ve done well at protecting Dak (Prescott,” Malone said. “That’s only half our job.

“We have to open up some holes. We don’t run the ball near as well as we should, so we have to find a way. Especially going into that last stretch of our season we have to find a way to open those holes, to get the running going so (defenses) can’t just sit on those passes.”

Now to be clear, even when opponents do scheme against Prescott’s passing Mississippi State has been completing throws, moving the chains, and scoring some points. And protection? It has been done very, very well. Mississippi State has surrendered just seven sacks in five games…and of course no Bulldog passer has been picked off either.

Well and good. But not until the front five are creating room to run will they consider themselves a successful offensive line. That is just the way blockers see the game, Malone said.

“It’s something you have to do, because that’s my job. Yes, Dak’s job is to control the game, manage and all that stuff. He’s the general. Everybody has their jobs, my job is to open the hole. Our job as a five is to open those holes, and protect the quarterback.”

And, as he’s already said, doing half the job well is a job not even half-done.

The numbers bear it out. Mississippi State is 11th in SEC average rushing, which is entirely against the Dan Mullen grain. The yards-per-carry rate isn’t so bad, but also a little inflated by a handful of big breaks. And in league play, 3.9 yards on the average rush doesn’t get it done. Put another way, in the three league contests State has run the ball (called or keeps) 81 times, against 129 passes.

Media and fans focus on whether Prescott should take it on himself to haul the ball more. Or if the offensive staff is using the right running backs in the right times. Or something. Malone is adamant: look at the line.

He also says, look to the linemen to change things in the second half of the schedule.

“Coach Mullen and Coach (John) Hevesy have been big on this the last couple of weeks, we’re going to run more and keep running more. We just have to be able to do it. We’re that close, but that means we’re still that far away. We can’t be that far away.”

‘That far’ is symbolized by Malone holding thumb and forefinger about an inch or so apart. Scale this measurement up to the real field and margins are still maybe too fine for most to notice. Not until game review meetings. Then the tiny margins become gaping, ummm, non-holes?

Malone also points to some frustrating examples. “There are plays where we open holes and they throw a bubble; there are plays they hand the ball off and we haven’t done our jobs. So it’s consistency.” But, bottom line, the play call shouldn’t impact how the down-linemen execute over four full quarters.

“Everybody has to do their job consistently. Like Coach Hevesy puts it, there will be ten people that do their job and one person that messes up. And that one person costs us the play. So all eleven have to do their job.”

Beginning with the front five. Or is the front seven? Not that Mississippi State is allowed to put extra blockers on the front, much as Mullen would enjoy it. Hevesy’s reputation for relying on a small core of ideally eight but sometimes just seven blockers continues. Beyond the five starters only two other linemen are getting regular work.

One is OG Deion Calhoun, the backup to Malone and right guard Devon Desper. The other, OT Elgton Jenkins, even got to make a start this past week. With senior Rufus Warren “80%” per Mullen on an iffy ankle, redshirt freshman Jenkins took over left tackle. He also played the entire Troy game, all 48 official offensive snaps.

Malone is amused by the irony. “He actually started against the same team I started against the first time.” That was in 2012 at Troy, a game State barely escaped. Malone chooses not to recall how well he performed in the first start.

“But that start was a tough one. We were down there and we barely won on the pass to (Chad) Bumphis.” At least Jenkins had a much easier afternoon in a first-half rout. Grade wise?

“He did well. He did well,” Malone said. “There’s always some questions when you start a redshirt freshman, no matter who it is, where it is. He stepped up. He actually did better in that game than the game he’s played so far. That’s a big step for him and shows he can be that guy next year.”

For now though, 2015 guys have to concentrate on the next Saturday. Kickoff against Louisiana Tech is 11:00am at Scott Field, and begins the second half of the schedule. By noon all should have indications of how serious Mississippi State is about running the football effectively. Not, Malone said, that there is much choice with five SEC games ahead.

“We have to.”

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