STARKVILLE — Dan Mullen is taking responsibility for his team’s offense not taking chances vertically down the field Saturday.
The Mississippi State University fifth-year coach said the film review of its 21-3 loss to No. 13 Oklahoma State University Saturday showed waiting for the perfect moment for a deep throw that just never came about.
“They gave us something (and) I never got to it,” Mullen said Monday. “You were waiting on it. With a lot of play calling you’re waiting on situations sometimes. We should have gotten to stuff early.”
Five years after promising to bring the spread offense to Starkville, MSU fans feel restlessness because in another prime matchup MSU’s attack left something to be desired for. MSU is now 2-18 all-time under Mullen against Associated Press Top 25 opponents and the Bulldogs have failed to produce over 20 points in 17 of those games.
“I always take responsibility for all the play calling on offense,” Mullen said. “I’m a offensive oriented coach. I do think in looking back on it, I do think there were times we could’ve taken some more shots down the field and we had some good one-on-one matchups and didn’t take as many shots.”
And while it’s true to suggest Mullen is a “offensive oriented coach” as he suggests, that doesn’t suggest he loves to throw the football as fans may have been led to believe.
Mullen was hired to replace Sylvester Croom and his less than productive west coast scheme but never promised he’d bring the pass to the Bulldogs program. In his introductory media conference to announce his hiring on Dec. 11, 2008, Mullen used the word “spread” five times including this quote trying to explain to the public how his spread offense could mean all kinds of attacking schemes.
“There is a lot of different styles of spread offenses out there right now,” Mullen said in his announcement media conference five years ago. “We are going to adapt ours to the players we have here right now. The philosophy of the spread offensive is to make the defense cover the whole field. We want to put our best athletes on the opposing defense’s weaker athlete.”
Eleven days after being introduced as MSU’s 32nd head coach in program history, Mullen hired Les Koenning as his offensive coordinator to assist in his offensive philosophy.
“I’ve known Coach Mullen for a long time and our offensive philosophies are very similar,” Koenning said according to the school’s release.
Koenning had previously spent five years on the Texas A&M staff, serving as offensive coordinator and working with the quarterbacks. He has spent 10 years of his career coordinating offenses and calling plays, starting in 1998 at Duke University before stops at the University of Houston (1999), Texas Christian University (2000) and University of Alabama (2001-03). Only three signal callers of those programs in the nine years produced a quarterback under Koenning with a 2,000-yard season (Alabama’s Brodie Croyle in 2003, A&M Reggie McNeal in 2004 and A&M’s Stephen McGee 2005-07).
The 2009 MSU football team poster even used the phrase “Spread the Fun” to describe the new offensive concept. However, in that same introductory news conference Mullen never used the words “pass”, “throw” or “air” once to describe his offensive philosophy. Historical statistics show that may be because his offense has never been based on a primarily passing school of thought. No pass-happy nature for Mullen as a offensive coordinator at the University of Utah, University of Florida or in four years at MSU.
In one of his defining victories at MSU, Mullen went back to Florida and defeated his former boss Urban Meyer 10-7 in 2011 by not throwing a forward pass in the entire second half.
“We’ve got to stay balanced or else people we’ll just load up and stop one things for us,” Mullen said during the SEC media teleconference Wednesday morning. We’re going to continue to try to stay balanced throughout the course of the game.
Instead Mullen’s offenses at Bowling Green State University, Utah, Florida all were ranked in the top half of their conference in one common statistical category: rushing yards per game. In fact, even with former No. 1 overall top pick in the 2004 NFL Draft Alex Smith, Utah went undefeated by finishing second in the Mountain West Conference with 236 rushing yards per game. Smith was the team’s second-leading rusher with 631 yards, 4.7 per carry, and 10 touchdowns.
In Mullen’s final season at Florida, which produced a second national title, the Gators led the Southeastern Conference in rushing by nearly a 45-yard per game margin at 231 per game – 17 yards more than they threw the football for.
“They can expect to work extremely hard, and they’d better bring their lunch pail every day,” said former University of Florida coach Tim Tebow, in Orlando, Fla., during the 2008 Home Depot ESPNU College Football awards. “They’re getting a coach who comes to work every day. They need to buy into him, because he’ll bring success.”
On Saturday, MSU fans saw neither success or a dynamic offense they were promised.
However, the evidence in the passing attack doesn’t suggest Mullen has changed who he is and what former MSU Director of Athletics Greg Byrne, who also never used a connecting word to pass, hired in Dec. 2008.
“We wanted somebody that we felt could handle the Xs and Os side of it as well as anybody could out there,” Byrne said.