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Arnett: MSU working to limit explosive plays defensively, extend drives offensively

Zach Arnett
Photo courtesy of MSU Athletics

The Mississippi State football team is looking to bounce back from a tough home loss against No. 12 LSU.

In preparing to take on South Carolina in Columbia, head coach Zach Arnett acknowledges that his team has a lot of ground to make up on both sides of the ball.

Throughout the course of the game against LSU, the Bulldogs struggled defensively, giving up nearly 10 yards per pass and five yards per rush. The Tigers also converted nine of 16 third-down attempts and were perfect on fourth down — with one fourth-down conversion resulting in a momentum-swinging touchdown pass from Jayden Daniels to Malik Nabers.

Daniels finished Saturday’s match completing 30 of 34 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns. Nabers led the Tigers in receiving with 239 yards and two touchdowns on 13 receptions. LSU had 530 total yards in the contest.

Arnett, widely considered a defensive guru in the coaching industry, explains that his team took what he believes to be necessary risks against the Tigers. However, while some of the plays he drew up worked to an extent, his defensive unit was simply overpowered by one of the nation’s best quarterback-wide receiver duos.

“That’s a risk of playing man against a talented receiver. That’s a risk you take when you blitz and play man,” Arnett said. “The fourth and six for the touchdown, we hit him, but on these inside fades, you can get the ball off early enough to beat the pressure a lot of times. Credit to them — perfectly thrown ball. In hindsight, we go man, [but] I wish we would have played zone there.”

Looking ahead to South Carolina, one of Arnett’s primary focuses is to limit big plays while also getting the Gamecocks’ offense, led by veteran quarterback Spencer Rattler, off the field on third downs.

On the offensive front, the Bulldogs mustered just 201 yards and only converted on three third-down attempts against LSU. Senior quarterback Will Rogers especially struggled. The Brandon native completed just 39 percent of his passes for 101 yards.

MSU continues to adjust to first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay’s system. Last season, the Bulldogs averaged 71 plays per game in the legendary Mike Leach’s final year of coaching. In its first three games of 2023, the team has averaged 58 plays.

While some may attribute the drop-off to changes in how the clock runs to speed up games, Arnett argues that his team’s inability to extend drives and move the chains, especially in third-down situations, is a reason for the change.

“Obviously, the more plays you run, the more opportunities you have for explosive plays,” Arnett continued. “Staying on the field — converting third downs and keeping drives going — leads to more plays, which then leads to more opportunities for explosive plays.”

South Carolina has struggled against the run so far in the season, giving up nearly 150 yards on the ground per game. Bulldog running back Woody Marks has a big opportunity in front of him to be the difference maker on Saturday.

Mississippi State will kick off against South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. CT. The game can be watched on the SEC Network or streamed on participating SuperTalk Mississippi stations.

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