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MSU fails to make adjustments in season-opening loss

 

Matthew Stevens

 

HOUSTON -- Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen needed four words to describe his team's season-opening loss. 

 

"We just didn't adjust," the Bulldogs' fifth-year coach said as he shook his head at the podium. 

 

Whether it was calling plays on offense or not stopping the zone-read quarterback runs on defense, MSU's inability to adjust led to a 21-3 loss to No. 13 Oklahoma State University and a disappointing start to the 2013 season. The loss marked the third time under Mullen that MSU failed to score a touchdown. Mullen is now 2-17 against ranked teams as MSU's coach. 

 

"We made a lot of first-game mistakes, and what happens in these big games is the margin of error is small, so those mistakes come back and hurt you," Mullen said. 

 

After dominating the first quarter, MSU was outgained by 200 yards and was 1 of 12 on third downs. The Bulldogs controlled time of possession for more than 11 minutes in the first quarter, including a 13-play, 57-yard opening drive that results in the team's only points. After that, MSU had only one drive that went more than five plays until the fourth quarter. 

 

"I thought we did a really nice job controlling the football early, but we never broke anything," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. 

 

After the first quarter, MSU's longest play from scrimmage was 15 yards. It had only three plays of more than 10 yards in the final three quarters. 

 

The response by the OSU coaching staff, which features new coordinators on both sides of the ball, was to adjust their attack scheme at the line of scrimmage. 

 

"We made some adjustments on some alignments and techniques on the interior line," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "(Defensive coordinator) Glenn Spencer did a nice job with being able to change so we could get more pressure. Suddenly we had more energy than we had." 

 

For months, MSU's defensive coaches talked about being able to handle OSU's pass-happy tempo offense. But those concepts didn't apply after quarterback J.W. Walsh entered the game. The sophomore utilized a read-option running attack, a different scheme from OSU's typical air-strike philosophy, and had 13 carries for 126 rushing yards and a touchdown. 

 

Walsh finished with 260 total yards (135 passing, 125 rushing) after entering the game with 1 minute, 12 seconds left in the first quarter for Clint Chelf. After the victory, Gundy was emphatic about who his quarterback was going to be. 

 

"(Walsh) is our starter in the next game, and it's because he came in and gave us that spark," Gundy said. "When you're trying to get two quarterbacks ready, it's difficult, and you're always concerned about that." 

 

Walsh said after the game his designed runs out of a shotgun/wishbone formation were a result of seeing MSU in a similar defensive alignment. The only surprise for the 2012 Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year was MSU's inability to recognize how to stop the outside containment. 

 

"We had an idea of what to do when they lined up in a certain formation, and we just exploited it over and over again," Walsh said. "They had seen it and weren't prepared for it. They didn't adjust." 

 

Geoff Collins was promoted to defensive coordinator in the offseason to bring an attacking scheme to MSU's front seven, but he admitted he was beaten by OSU's "untraditional offense." 

 

"I thought what they wanted to run for the first 25 minutes was being handled by our smart kids," Collins said. "We made an adjustment at halftime and they changed a bit and by the fourth quarter we were stoning them. Just one of those things where they brought a unique thing to the field." 

 

In the third quarter, OSU had an 11-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown, a 14-play, 52-yard drive that ended on downs, and a nine-play, 82-yard drive that resulted in another touchdown. 

 

OSU's defense, which has been a middle-of-the-pack unit in the Big 12, held MSU to its lowest point total since a 45-0 loss to the University of Mississippi in the 2008 Egg Bowl. The Cowboys' victory, the 13th in their last 14 non-conference games, marked the first time they held a Bowl Championship Series opponent to three or fewer points since a 12-0 victory against the University of Oklahoma on Nov. 11, 1995. 

 

"There hasn't been games at Oklahoma State over the last five or six years, maybe longer, where the defense is the story," Gundy said. "They kept us in the game and allowed the offense to going in the third and fourth quarter." 

 

With all the talk of the dominance of the Southeastern Conference, OSU left Reliant Stadium with a 9-1 record in its last 10 games against current league members. 

 

"Our up-tempo kills people," OSU tailback Jeremy Smith said. "I know they will be fine in the SEC, but as long as we can keep playing fast, that's going to hurt a lot of people, no matter what conference they play in." 

 

Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.

 

The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.

 

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