The plays happened on consecutive possessions in the second quarter. The first was a 19-yard touchdown pass from Zach Mettenberger to Jarvis Landry on a third-and-8; the other was a 36-yard pass from Mettenberger to James Wright – what Smith called a “hole shot” – which set up another LSU touchdown just before halftime.
“If I had those two plays back, I would feel pretty good about what we did,” said Smith, MSU’s cornerbacks coach. “We had some mental mistakes that we normally don’t have on the back end, which was kind of out of character for us.”
Such mistakes have been occurring a little too often of late for the MSU secondary, which has been hailed as one of the best in the SEC. Over its last three games – all losses – State’s opponents have completed 73.1 percent of passes for 840 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
What’s been the issue? The buzzword among MSU’s coaches and players has been “miscommunication.” As examples, head coach Dan Mullen cited an ill-timed blitz and a defensive back rolling to the middle of the field instead of toward the boundary against LSU.
Talk amongst yourselves
So, how does State fix those communication issues?
“Part of it is the repetition and doing it, making guys talk during practice,” Mullen said. “To be honest with you, it comes down to your constant focus. It wasn't like we didn’t run that same defense again and run it right at other points in the game. We did.”
Safeties coach Tony Hughes said the communication breakdowns have resulted from a combination of factors.
“You have noise level, you have young kids out there playing and trying to figure it all out, and they’re scoring so fast sometimes,” he said. “That’s where you have a quarterback back there, one person who takes charge and says, OK, you get over here, you get over here. That’s where we have to do a better job.”
Smith said the issues are “fixable” in practice this week, and they’d better be. Arkansas visits on Saturday, and quarterback Tyler Wilson enters the game as the SEC’s second-leading passer at 311.4 yards per game.
Last season against MSU, Wilson passed for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-17 Arkansas win. The Bulldogs’ secondary had no answers that day, and now it certainly needs to find some answers to its current woes, or Wilson could have another big game.
“If you look at the LSU game, what happened to us wasn’t talent issues,” Smith said. “One of them we just left a guy uncovered, and the other one we just played our technique poor. The situation, we weren’t as sharp.
“We didn’t look like we were overmatched. I really felt good about how we played, I just wish we had played smarter.”