Third-down conversions proving elusive for MSU

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has not been good on third downs in the last two games, converting only 5 of 24 (20.8 percent). It was 4 of 14 against Troy on Saturday and is 13 of 39 (33.3 percent) on the season.
As bad as it’s been in that category, State has been tough to stop on fourth downs, converting 5 of 6 on the season. The Bulldogs had two big fourth-down conversions on a late touchdown drive Saturday.
Head coach Dan Mullen said on Monday that he can’t pinpoint one overriding issue on third downs.
“We’ve been pretty inconsistent across the board,” he said. “We’ve made some third-and-longs. It’s not like we’ve made all our third-and-shorts, it’s third-and-plus we haven’t converted yet. We’ve missed some third-and-shorts, too.
“It’s something I’m looking at and making sure we get looks in those situations in practice, and get the play call exactly for what we want and how we want to attack it. We’ve missed some blocks, we’ve missed some throws, we’ve missed some protections. It’s a little bit of everything right now that I want to make the guys know the exact plan for us to execute.”
Last season, MSU had a third-down conversion rate of 38.7 percent, and it was 9 of 18 (50 percent) on fourth downs.
“When I’m in the huddle and coach gives the go-ahead to go on fourth down, that shows he really trusts our guys on the field to get the first down,” quarterback Tyler Russell said. “I just tell the guys we’ve got to get this, we don’t have another down.”
Issues to fix
MSU’s coaches have a lot of problems to address after Saturday’s win, which featured several dropped passes and missed tackles.
“I think we had 22 missed tackles and I think 18 missed assignments and a couple of loafs, which you can’t have,” Mullen said of the defense. “I think the tempo got to some guys at times. The guys weren’t lined up in place and we weren’t ready to go.”
As for the dropped passes, of which Mullen said there were seven, Russell isn’t too concerned.
“The guys are going to come out – I don’t have to get on them,” he said. “They know what should have been done and things like that. They know what to do this week.”
Injury report
Wide receiver Arceto Clark took a hard lick early in Saturday’s game and did not return, but Mullen expects him to return this week. Brandon Hill, who missed the Troy game with a sprained ankle, is listed as questionable by Mullen.
Starting right guard Tobias Smith (knee) is “between questionable and probable,” he said. Mullen added that tight end Malcolm Johnson, who’s been out all season with a pectoral injury, could be back by the Kentucky game on Oct. 6.
brad.locke@journalinc.com