By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Last season, Mississippi State was known for playing stingy defense in the red zone – inside the 20 – and for being opportunistic on offense in that part of the field.
That’s no longer the case.
In SEC games only, the No. 22-ranked Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2 SEC) rank seventh in the league in red zone defense and 12th in red zone offense. It’s been an especially troublesome issue the last two games.
In losses to Alabama and Texas A&M, MSU’s defense gave up scores on eight of 11 red zone possessions, including some key ones early in those games. Offensively, State scored on just three of six red zone trips.
“There’s a couple of games we’ve been excellent in the red zone both sides of the ball; a couple of games we’ve been poor,” head coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “To me it is a lack of consistency. We have to be more consistent.”
Last season, MSU ranked second in the SEC in red zone defense, allowing scores 73.9 percent of the time. In nine games this season the rate is 75 percent (21 of 28) and tied for sixth, so it’s not been all bad.
Opponents have averaged 3.1 red zone opportunities per game this season, compared to 3.5 last year. But again, Alabama and A&M totaled 11 such possessions.
“The key for us as far as red zone defense this year was not allowing guys to be in the red zone, and that was a big factor,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “Now that we’ve had opportunities for guys to get in the red zone, we’ve got to be more efficient, forcing those guys to kick field goals.”
Opponents have reached the red zone with the aid of long plays. MSU, which had given up only one rushing play of 20-plus yards at home all season, gave up four to Texas A&M in the first half. State gave up 10 plays total of 20-plus in that game.
Offensively, MSU has gotten no push in the run game the last two games in the red zone. MSUhas gained 5 yards on six carries in three failed possessions.
Offensive coordinator Les Koenning said the execution has been “a hair off.”
“Those are things that are hard to duplicate at times in practice, you know what I’m saying, because of the speed of the game,” he said. “Those things, we’re learning through that as we go through that.”