Mississippi State sophomore running back Kylin Hill topped the 100-yard mark Saturday night against Auburn. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
October 7, 2018 2:07:29 AM
By Brett Hudson
STARKVILLE -- Nick Fitzgerald knew what kind of game this would be, and he wanted to ensure the men he thought would decide it were ready to take it over. He went to the offensive line and told them simply: "If you win tonight, we win.
"Not present for this conversation was Joe Moorhead, the coach who had already crafted the plan to make it happen.
The same offense that failed to muster 205 yards of offense in consecutive Southeastern Conference games ran for 349 Saturday against what was statistically one of the conference's best defenses. Previously unused presnap motion was the reason it happened -- and the reason MSU toppled No. 8 Auburn 23-9.
"You look at Auburn's defensive front, led by No. 5 (Derrick brown) and all the other guys in the front four, No. 57 (Deshaun Davis), they're one of the most stout, incredibly talented teams that I've seen on film," Moorhead said. "They're guys that can get their hand in the dirt, tee off and let their linebackers play downhill, and we felt like we needed to do something to neutralize their physicality and athleticism. We did that with some motion to keep them east and west, keep them off-balance.
"We think about the run game being about numbers and angle; I think the motion helped us get a numbers advantage at the point of attack."
That intent was apparent from the beginning, when MSU started the game with running back Kylin Hill out wide as part of an empty backfield formation. The true intent became obvious on the second play, when MSU motioned him into the backfield to run an option.
The move forced Auburn (4-2, 1-2 SEC) to adapt to a dangerous player on the move at the last second, it also never let Auburn get comfortable by moving them in different ways. There were times when the running backs would take the straight line across the quarterback, never slowing down and giving the defense a full-speed potential ball carrier to account for at the snap.
There were times where the back motioned to what would have been his usual spot alongside the quarterback for more traditional spread option looks.
Then there were motions that sent the running back beyond the quarterback, just to turn around and run the play the other direction. The crossing was particularly effective -- it cleared the way for a Nick Fitzgerald run of 39 yards that made him the SEC's leader for career rushing yards by a quarterback, breaking Tim Tebow's record.
"One thing, it kept the linebackers on edge and that meant we could wear out the defensive line," right guard Deion Calhoun said. "We didn't have to chase the linebackers."
Throughout the week, MSU talked about simplifying its offense. They believed their process did not need to change but their execution did, and simplifying the offense was discussed as a possibility. That being the case, radically new wrinkle was not expected -- and it only worked because it wasn't all that radical.
Moorhead said those wrinkles were in place, but never emphasized until this week. Plus, MSU (4-2, 1-2 SEC) was experimenting with running back Kylin Hill as a perimeter option as early as their first spring practices.
The result of it all was MSU running 57 times, nearly as much as the 62 rushes combined over the previous two games. Moorhead is not to proud to admit the thought process was no more complex than sticking with what worked.
The number of carries will stand out -- especially for running backs, as Hill and Williams combined for 28 carries after combining for 24 in the losses to Kentucky and Florida. Yet, a performance as dominating as this one was not about what the Bulldogs did, in running the ball as frequently as they did, but how they did it. They did it with a scheme tailored to their personnel and the defense across from them, and they did it with players who seized every advantage the scheme afforded them.
Therein lies the part that is sustainable going forward, in its trip to LSU after a bye week. That's the part that excites Hill.
"Once we execute, we can beat anybody," Hill said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
1. Heritage takes MAIS All-Sports award for second straight year HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Ethan Small named SEC pitcher of the Year COLLEGE SPORTS
3. MSU's Borges, Oradini advance in NCAA tennis tournament COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Vanderbilt leads stacked field at SEC Tournament COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Vanderbilt's JJ Bleday selected as SEC player of the year COLLEGE SPORTS