Offensive Grade: B-
Senior quarterback Kevin Fant had one of the best days of his career, completing 23 of 40 passes for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns. He threw 1 interception and was sacked 3 times.
After having trouble hanging onto the ball the past couple of years, the wide receivers showed that the improvement that they have shown in practice was not a mirage. Combined, they hauled in 18 passes for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ray Ray Bivines and Justin Jenkins earned game high honors with 6 receptions each. Bivines netted 98 yards while Jenkins netted 61 and 1 touchdown. Tee Milons and McKinley Scott had 3 receptions a piece to round it out. Scott's 3 receptions resulted in 27 yards and 1 TD, while Milons also had a touchdown and 36 yards.
The running backs, in limited opportunities due to Oregon jumping out to a quick 28-0 lead in the first quarter, averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Nick Turner led the pack with 74 yards and 1 touchdown on 7 carries. Jerious Norwood also had a good day, netting 41 yards on 9 carries. Fullback Darnell Jones was used exclusively as a blocker. Unlike last year, when the offensive line struggled to open up holes for the running backs, there were several times the offensive line opened up nice holes for the backs.
The offensive line, playing what appeared to be seven players during the game, also showed improvement in the pass protection area. And this is despite having its two starting guards, Brad Weathers and Johnny Wadley, out due to injuries. Although Fant was sacked three times during the game, only two were the result of missed blocks by the offensive line. The other one was due to a missed block by one of the tight ends. In fact, the offensive line, during the first three quarters, rarely allowed the the Oregon defensive front near Fant. The heaviest pressure of the night came during the fourth quarter when MSU went almost exclusively to their passing game.
Although they scored 34 points (in three quarters) and accumulated 409 yards, a crucial first quarter fumble and not scoring until the second quarter earns the offense a B- average. This is a part of the team that will only get better as the season progresses and the two starting guards get back in the lineup.
Defensive Grade: D
Despite seeing it give up 42 points and 556 yards, there were some positives seen on the defensive side of the ball. The first that comes to mind is the number of defensive players who played in the game. 19 players had 2 or more tackles during the game. And 24 defensive players had at least 1 tackle. Of those 24, 13 are freshmen or sophomores. Another part of the defense that was a positive was the play of the defensive line. After not recording a tackle against Oregon last season, Tommy Kelly had 7 tackles against them this year and also was in the backfield numerous other times. Ronald Fields also had 7 tackles while Willie Evans had 6 and Jason Clark had 5. Another example of how well the line performed, during the 28-0 Oregon first quarter, they allowed just 26 yards on 10 rushes. The heaviest hit area of the MSU defense was a young MSU secondary that included 1 true freshman, 2 sophomores and 1 inexperienced senior among its four starters.
That brings us to the weakest area of the MSU defense; the youthful secondary.
During the first quarter alone, Oregon passed for 231 yards. 141 of those yards were on the two touchdown passes against MSU's two cornerbacks. Oregon's quarterback Jason Fife said after the game, they were trying to pick on the MSU cornerbacks because of their inexperience.
However, what is a negative now, very likely will become a positive as the year progresses. Although the secondary is young and inexperienced, it is also very, very talented - two of the four starters are former high school Parade All-Americans.
Like the secondary, also look for the linebacking corps - which includes two sophomores among the three starters - to improve as the year goes on.
Although the immediate and long-term future looks bright for the defense, the reality of Saturday's game is the defense earned a D after giving up 42 points and 556 yards and numerous big plays.
After trailing 28-0 in the first quarter, the Bulldogs showed a lot of heart and desire by outscoring the Ducks 34-14 the rest of the way. I give them a F for the first quarter and an A the rest of the way. While that would normally average out to something like a C, since I expected the Bulldogs to play more like they did the last three quarters, I have to give them a grade of D.
Have a great Bulldog week!
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.