Following each loss, Logan Lowery of the Daily Journal will give his opinion and grade out each position group for Mississippi State.
Overview: Mississippi State continued to follow the same pattern it has used all year but with a twist. The Bulldogs held their ground in the first half and set themselves up down a touchdown at halftime. But MSU was blown out 17-0 in the third quarter and trailed by 24 entering the fourth. The Bulldogs have struggled all year in the second half so that was not a surprise.
What was shocking was the five turnovers State surrendered. As I wrote in Sunday’s paper, the Bulldogs entered the game with only six turnovers all season which led the Southeastern Conference and was seventh nationally.
Mississippi State’s defense and special teams played well enough to win the game but could not overcome the constant turnovers by the offense. The Bulldogs defense forced South Carolina into seven three-and-outs but had their backs against the wall with a short field behind them thanks to the turnovers.
All four of MSU’s losses have come to teams currently ranked in the Top 15 in the country. Playing in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the country, the Bulldogs are going to have to find a way to eliminate the mistakes if they want to join these elite teams.
Quarterback: F Dak Prescott played his worst game against South Carolina committing four turnovers – three interceptions and one fumble. I’m not sure how much his mother’s deteriorating health weighed on his mind leading into the game so credit him for being there for his teammates on Saturday. Prescott had career-highs in completions and passing attempts but rarely did State take a shot downfield. Also some of the blame for the mismanagement of time before halftime falls on his shoulders. In talking with Prescott after the game, I did earn a lot of respect for him for accepting his role in the loss.
Running backs: D+ A combination of LaDarius Perkins, Josh Robinson and Ashton Shumpert combined for 19 carries for 66 yards. Mississippi State found success on the ground during the opening drive but abandoned the run for some strange reason on the next three series and never were able to gain back that same momentum. Outside of using Prescott’s rushing ability at quarterback, no running back has really established himself in a game all season.
Wide receivers: C- Only five wide receivers played in Saturday’s game and just three recorded catches. Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis each caught seven passes and De’Runnya Wilson hauled in three balls. Although that trio finished with 138 yards receiving, only one pass went for more than 20 yards in the game. MSU needs more playmakers to step up in the passing game and become more of a vertical threat instead of continually dumping off short passes and relying on yards after the catch to move the chains.
Tight ends: D- Kentucky was the tight ends best game of the year but could not follow it up against the Gamecocks. Malcolm Johnson was named Tight End of the Week by multiple national outlets but finished with just three catches for 15 yards on Saturday, all of which came in the second half. The tight ends and receivers had a tough time blocking Sharrod Golightly on the edge allowing him to blow up plays and make open field tackles.
Offensive line: A- The Bulldogs patchwork offensive line held up really well against one of the better defensive line’s in the league. State surrendered one sack and limited arguably the best defensive player in the country, Jadeveon Clowney, to just three tackles and a pass breakup. Blaine Clausell did an excellent job in that matchup. The interior line did a good job against SEC sack leader Kelcy Quarles holding him to two tackles and only one for loss.
Defensive line: C+ It was an average game for the Bulldogs defensive line. The d-line did not have a sack but had four quarterback hurries including two from freshman Chris Jones. Preston Smith had another good showing at defensive end and was tied for second on the team with four tackles. Mississippi State’s defensive line is deep but none have really stepped up to be that dominant force. Chris Jones is as close as they’ve got.
Linebackers: B- The Bulldogs rotated two units at linebacker throughout the game and both had their moments. Deontae Skinner led the team in tackles with five while Matthew Wells and Richie Brown finished with four. Benardrick McKinney had only three stops but one was MSU’s only sack of the game. However, the linebackers at the second level gave up 128 yards to Mike Davis and as a defensive never stopped him for negative yardage in 15 attempts.
Defensive backs: C- The Bulldogs secondary only allowed 10 completions but four of them went for touchdowns. Connor Shaw picked them apart taking advantage of a short field after the turnovers leading to an easy day for him. State’s already young secondary has been decimated by injuries this season but fared pretty well considering the circumstances on Saturday. Nickoe Whitley bounced back after being ejected against Kentucky and had one of his better games in a while.
Special teams: A- It hasn’t happened much this year but the kicking game was solid all-around on Saturday. Evan Sobiesk booted his only field goal opportunity from 38-yards and Devon Bell averaged 47.6 yards on five punts and pinned four inside the red zone, including one at the 5-yard line. Bell also had two touchbacks on kickoffs. In the return game, Lewis struggled with only 12 return yards (15 kickoff return, minus-3 punt return).
Coaching: C- The biggest glaring coaching error came when State was unable to take a shot at points at the end of the first half. That series of events was a horrible mismanagement of the clock and is a reflection on preparation for such situations. The defensive game plan was executed fairly well but on offense there were not many chances taken down field. I still don’t understand lining up in the shotgun in short yardage situations and also don’t get why you’d run a route short of the stick on third down.