By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Dan Mullen knows his offense has more to give.
No. 19 Mississippi State is winning, with a 5-0 mark (2-0 SEC) heading into this week’s home game against Tennessee (3-2, 0-2). But its offense has not displayed consistent big-play ability and has not piled up the points.
MSU has topped the 30-point mark only once, notching 56 against Jackson State, an FCS team, in the season opener. And it’s not like the Bulldogs have been facing stellar defenses.
The Bulldogs have faced three full-fledged Division I members – South Alabama is a transitional team and not counted in the NCAA national stats – and none of them rank higher than 68th in total defense. Troy ranks highest in scoring defense, at 44th (22.6 points per game).
Mullen, in his Monday press conference, pointed to some missed opportunities in Saturday’s 27-14 win at Kentucky.
“It’s hard to score in this league. So when you have those opportunities to make big plays, you have to take advantage of those,” Mullen said.
MSU has 24 plays of 20 or more yards, which is tied for 65th in the country, according to cfbstats.com. It has nine plays of 30-plus yards (tied-78th) and five of 40-plus (tied-61st).
“We’ve had a lot of long drives, especially last week,” offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “We had a lot of 13-play drives, which that helps us with time of possession, keeps your defense off the field.”
State has had seven scoring drives of 10 plays or longer this season. That puts it slightly ahead of last year’s pace, when it had 15 such scoring drives in 13 games.
A lack of big strikes is one reason MSU has had trouble closing teams out when it should. MSU is outscoring opponents 66-44 in the second half, but take away the JSU game, and the margin is much slimmer: 45-41.
Mullen noted on Sunday that his team tends to “take (its) foot off the gas a little bit” after getting a lead.
“We were up 27-7 (at Kentucky), had the ball, had one of our two three-and-outs on the whole day,” he said Monday. “Then we shank a punt, and then we proceed to let them have one of their best drives of the day. That’s a complete lack of mental focus right there.”