Mississippi State has recorded 101 first downs through five games this season, an average of 20.2 per game. That’s respectable, and it’s tied for fifth in the SEC (with Florida).
Ah, but the Bulldogs have also allowed 101 first downs. That’s 10th in the league. Let’s break down the first down totals by game:
• Georgia 20, MSU 13
• Louisiana Tech 20, MSU 20
• LSU 21, MSU 13
• MSU 31, Auburn 21
• MSU 24, Memphis 19
So, 55 of State’s first downs were gained the first two weeks of the season. The chains haven’t moved so easily the last three weeks, which coincides with the struggles the offense has experienced. The running game has accounted for only 94.7 yards per game the last three weeks, and that’s the Bulldogs’ best method of gaining first downs.
As coach Dan Mullen pointed out earlier this week, MSU put itself in too many second-and-longs against Georgia. The numbers back him up: State’s average yards-to-go on second down that game was 7.5 yards. Not good, especially when Chris Relf and his receivers are struggling to click.
As for the defense, it’s interesting that all of the opponent third-down totals are between 19 and 21 – very consistent. We know tackling has been an issue, and third-down defense has, too: At 38.3 percent, State is ninth in the SEC.
I don’t want to over-simplify this stat, because as you can see, MSU had more first downs than Auburn in a loss, and was even with Louisiana Tech in an overtime win. Still, it’s a significant stat, and one the Bulldogs need to improve on.