STARKVILLE — Instead of an unconventional high powered passing attack, it turns out the Mississippi State University defense should have been more worried Saturday about the typical zone-read option.
After the Bulldogs’ 21-3 loss to No. 13 Oklahoma State in Houston, MSU coach Dan Mullen knows his team will see the running attack out of a condensed formation zone-read option again numerous times. This season, six other MSU opponents (Auburn University, Troy University, University of Kentucky, University of South Carolina, Texas A&M University and University of Mississippi) run a version of the zone-read option offense.
“You know, it’s just making that adjustment,” Mullen said Monday. “The benefit is now we’ve seen it. We’re going to see other teams run that stuff and now we actually have clips of us defending it, a lot of different variations.”
MSU allowed Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh to eclipse his career high in rushing Saturday by the end of the first half with 75 yards and the sophomore didn’t enter the game until there was 1 minute, 41 seconds left in the first quarter. Walsh would finish with 125 rushing yards and 9.6 yards per carry.
“To see our running game be so successful is nice to see early on in the season especially against a big physical defense like that,” Walsh said after the game.
The Cowboys sophomore quarterback, who immediately after the victory was named the starter for the following week, became the first player behind center to rush for the century mark in a game in six years. Walsh, who was named the 2012 Big 12 Conference freshman of the year, also avoided being sacked all game an aggressive and creative pass rush from MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
“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.”
Along with Walsh was the 102 rushing yards of running back Jeremy Smith. The senior had two touchdown runs and 6.8 yards per touch Saturday in his 100-yard performance since earning 119 yards on 10 carries against the University of Oklahoma on Dec. 3, 2011.
“They did their thing in the first half and we did our thing adjusting in the second half,” Smith said. “We came out in the second half and just physically put it on them.”
The OSU running attack racked up the most yards (286) since the Cowboys put up 330 against the University of Louisiana, coached by former MSU assistant Mark Hudspeth, which marked a span of 11 games.
Mullen suggested Monday the defense’s inability to contain the zone-read option was limited to just when OSU would show a variation of the wishbone formation out of the shotgun. With two tight ends and two running backs flanking the OSU quarterback, Walsh was able to find a lane either left or right of the tackle box for five rushes for over 10 yards or more.
“I think all the zone read stuff that they had run before the non-three tight end stuff, I thought we defended it really well,” Mullen said.
Saturday marked the third straight time MSU has seen the zone-read option offense and have lost all three matchups by an average of 16.33 points per game. In those three consecutive losses dating back to the 2012 Egg Bowl rivalry at Ole Miss, the opponents from three different conferences (Ole Miss, Northwestern University and Oklahoma State) averaged 226.66 yards per game.
“Defensively there first five possessions they had 46 yards (and) that is the No. 1 offense in the country,” Mullen said referencing Oklahoma State’s attack. “They make an adjustment (and) that starts with obviously us. Making the right adjustments during the course of the game so that we do put our players in position to go finish things. With our mental toughness as we go and have success, we can’t think ‘OK we’re good right now’.”