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MSU Mailbag: Offensive line, running backs, DBs and Game of Thrones




It's my favorite time of the week: mailbag time. Thanks for coming through with questions for Week 2, guys, I appreciate it. (For Game of Thrones fans, there's a question just for you at the bottom, so hang with me all the way through.) 


- I'm going to start by combining two questions into one. @dawgarchitect asked when Elgton Jenkins got his job as starting center and why couldn't the low snaps be fixed during the game. On a similar subject, @WLister83 simply said, "MSU OL play discuss." 


The Elgton Jenkins question has a simple answer: MSU went out of its way to work other centers in throughout August, but my understanding is Jenkins was never in serious jeopardy in that role. Snaps were low last week, but they got noticeably better in the second half. I asked Mullen about it after the game and wrote about it in the notebook, and here was Mullen's quote: "I didn't see a bad snap. I just saw some that weren't great, and we want great ones every single snap. I think he'll see it and grow from that." 


On the offensive line: look, when you have two new starters and move the other three around as MSU did throughout the spring and preseason, the first game out is going to present some room to grow. All of that considered, I'm perfectly OK with where the unit is....right now. MSU needs to show some notable strides against Louisiana Tech to prove it can be ready to take on LSU the week after. 


One thing that stuck out to me was how MSU handled some complex run blocking schemes: inside zone, outside zone, some inventive powers/counters from shotgun formations, etc. When guys were asked to pull, I felt like they looked adequate at the very least in doing so. 


And now for an advanced number to leave you on the fence: Bill Connelly defines Stuff Rate as the percentage of runs in which a team is stopped for no gain or for a loss, a number that is almost entirely attributed to offensive line play for obvious reasons. MSU's Stuff Rate Allowed last week was 18 percent (9 of 50), which is slightly better than the national average from 2016, but there's two catches to this: the first is that two of those stuffed runs belonged to Keytaon Thompson, telling you garbage time negatively impacted that number, but the second is that there was a bunch of 1-yard runs in there, which might as well be stuffs if we're being honest. Take that information and do what you will with it. 


- As a quick look back: @10RobertWilliams (consistent mailbag participant, shoutout to Rob) asked for my biggest surprise of the weekend for MSU and in the SEC. 


The biggest surprise out of MSU for me was the wide receiving corps. I even wrote about it the next day with this basic idea: I thought Donald Gray was going to be supported by a well defined No. 2 or 3 option, but instead it looks like MSU has enough guys to go by committee to get that job done. Deddrick Thomas, Gabe Myles, Keith Mixon, Reggie Todd and a few tight ends all did well when called upon. That's a pleasant surprise. 


In the SEC...HOW DO YOU BLOW A 34-POINT LEAD, TEXAS A&M?!?!?!?! But that joke aside, I think the thing I was most surprised by is just how bad the Florida offense was. I consider myself well-versed in Jim McElwain's offense having watched a ton of him at both Alabama and Colorado State and it's just hard for me to see how his system with Floridian talent can be such a spectacular failure, but that's exactly what it is right now. My belief that he'll turn it around has never faded, but it might be inching that way now. 


- Jared Bailey (@IamBailey8) asks: Do you think the running backs will rotate about the same amount as last week, or will Dan only take Aeris out when he needs a breather? 


Well, unless MSU is beating somebody by 40 I don't see Alec Murphy getting carries like he did in the very end against Charleston Southern and I don't see MSU beating Tech by 40, so no, it won't quite be like last week. 


But to actually answer his question, yes, I think you're going to see more of what MSU started out with: heavy doses of Aeris Williams with the combination of Dontavian Lee and Kylin Hill, in that order for now, giving him breathers when needed. Look at it this way: Williams got 16 carries in a week when MSU won 49-0 while no one else had more than 9. Even Arkansas -- Arkansas (!!!), in all of their #AlwaysRunNeverPass ways -- didn't have a running back hit 16 carries in a 49-7 win over Florida A&M. MSU likes Aeris right now and they're going to use him. But stay tuned to the next question... 


- On a similar subject, Kurt Wirth (@Kurt_Wirth) asks: Who is the best running back on State's roster and adds he's not a big believer in Aeris Williams. 


I had this conversation briefly with our columnist, Slim Smith, and here's something I said almost verbatim: I think Aeris is the best MSU has right now and Lee is probably the second best, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if by the end of the season Hill is definitely second best and threatening for first. That claim will get tested over the coming weeks as I think it'll only get harder: Tech's defense will be better than Charleston Southern's, LSU will be better than Tech's and I think Georgia's right now is better than LSU's. If he keeps his current level of efficiency through the bye week, I could see that, but I also see things to like in Williams and Lee. 


- @MSUmaroon came with a really good one: Since the secondary will be under the microscope, what does success and improvement look like? 


When you relate that to Louisiana Tech and its diverse offense, I think a lot of it is going to come down to how they tend to make life miserable for safeties. The Tech offense combines so many different passing concepts from different philosophies that it's not uncommon for safeties to see West Coast, Air Raid, pro-style and straight up verticals all within the framework of one possession. 


So, what does improvement look like? Limiting big plays. Safeties are almost always tasked with taking away the deep ball, but against offenses like this they're also often asked to prevent 6-yard passes from turning into 20-yard gains by making the tackle or swarming to the ball to affect the play. 


Here is something to keep in mind from a statistical standpoint: last year, the national average for defenses was around 8.5 passes of 10+ yards allowed per game and 3.1 passes of 20+ yards allowed per game. Let's see how MSU compares in that respect. 


- A quick one before the Game of Thrones thing: @dg7258 asks about guys that didn't dress for last week, he mentions offensive lineman Tyre Phillips, and asks for an update. 


I didn't notice if Braxton Hoyett dressed or not, but Mullen explained after the fact that injury and he's fine. Beyond that, look, if you didn't dress against Charleston Southern, you're probably going to redshirt. Mullen has said repeatedly that he won't make any final decisions on that until a few more weeks into the year, but if you think about it in that sense, it's hard to imagine those guys playing if they didn't against Charleston Southern. 


- Now, the Game of Thrones thing. Dylan Hodges (@DylanHodges20) asked what Game of Thrones character Dan Mullen would be. I met this with the most accurate response I possibly could: I've never watched a single second of Game of Thrones. That claim was met by mentions being flooded for the next hour with Game of Thrones talk, so here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to take what I learned about these characters from these tweets, pick on and let y'all laugh about how wrong I am. Sound good? Great. 


First, friend on the beat Brian Hadad suggested Ser Davos Seaworth. Google tells me he is a knight and former smuggler; well, Mullen has been stealing wins from people for years, so I'm good with that. 


I also saw the suggestion of Robb Stark, who I learned has apparently climbed to kingdom after someone executed his father. I'll take that one if Mullen takes something like the Notre Dame job after Brian Kelly gets fired, etc., you can see the parallel I'm going for. 


I like the Varys comparison, and here's why: I see his backstory involves his travelling around many different cities before he got a really good offer, like Mullen was at Utah, Florida, Syracuse, Bowling Green and others before MSU. That's my pick.



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