After this past Saturday’s opening-season loss to Oklahoma State, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen finds himself searching for answers.
Mullen comes into year five at Mississippi State with a roster full of players he recruited—a fifth-year senior quarterback, a senior running back and an offensive line loaded with multiple players with SEC playing time. Despite all these positives, his club mustered only three points against the Cowboys of Oklahoma State.
This recent offensive output seems to be an ongoing trend dating back to last year, when the Bulldogs lost five of their final six ballgames to end the 2012 season. Simply put, the Bulldogs are struggling mightily on the offensive side of the ball and have been for some time now.
After Saturday’s performance, fans of Mississippi State are upset and want answers. As head coach, Dan Mullen is now 0-16 against Top 20 opponents, and his offense seems to be going backwards moving into year five at Mississippi State.
I posed the question recently whether Dan Mullen was at an unfair crossroads, and he very well may be. But, fair or unfair, Mullen is now in a situation where he needs to fix his offense or it could be to his demise.
To do that, I urge Mullen to revisit his past so his future can be a bright one at Mississippi State.
Mullen, as everyone knows, was basically joined at the hip of now-Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer for most of his career. Mullen and Meyer got credit for revolutionizing the offensive side of the football back in 2003 at Utah.
Yes, there are guys like Dabo Swinney at Clemson, Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and even Chip Kelly while at Oregon who are known as offensive geniuses, but before these guys, there was Mullen and Meyer.
When Mullen and Meyer rolled the “spread option” out in 2003, many felt this was a change in the way offense would be played in college football, and they were right.
In an article dated June, 2006, titled “The Secrets of Urban Meyer’s Spread Offense," which can be read here, Mullen and Meyer are mentioned in the following opening statements:
The legend lives on: From the flat lands of northern Ohio to the depths of Salt Lake City to the swamps of Florida, Urban Meyer, at the young age of 41, has already earned the moniker of legend. He has been called a football genius, an offensive innovator and is considered the architect behind an offense that even the best minds in college football can’t harness, let alone stop.
His spread option offense helped change the game and in turn brought respectability to Bowling Green, an undefeated season to Utah and renewed success for the Florida Gators. Meyer certainly brought with him plenty of impressive credentials, including a two-time National Coach of the Year. And with the help of Meyer, his Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen and a few guys paid to try and stop this offense, we will take an inside look at the legend’s offense, how it works and why it works.
Mullen and Meyer lived by the philosophy that, “All things being equal, anybody can stop the run and anybody can stop the pass,” Meyer said. “But can you stop both?”
Mullen continues to talk about the offense, stating, “The greatest strength of the offense is creating mismatches and we rely on our personnel to do that. We are trying to get our players in position to make plays based on a one-on-one mismatch in athleticism.”
Mullen continued, “In basketball, you don’t put a quick point guard with great speed and a tremendous cross-over move down on the blocks or pass him the ball in the deep corner. The same goes for a receiver with a great first move and tremendous breakaway speed. You put him in situations where he can best use his skills - in the open field, with room to run and not limited to one side of the field.”
This is an interesting statement by Mullen because if you watch his offense today, you see what appears to be just the opposite. Of course the Mississippi State coaching staff wants to get the ball to its playmakers, but if you watch this offense today and go back and watch a former Mullen offense, it is night and day as far as creativity and production.
There are several moving parts in all of this that could be attributed to the lack of offensive production for the Bulldogs.
Is quarterback Tyler Russell suited to run Mullen’s offense or is he out of his element? Are there enough playmakers on the offensive side of the ball for Mullen? Is there a conflict in philosophy between Mullen and offensive coordinator Les Koenning?
I think the jury is still out on Russell as a quarterback capable of running a Mullen-led offense. He is a pure pocket passer and could be better fit in a more traditional pro-style set, but why is Mullen trying to run the zone read with a guy who cannot run?
I also do not believe there just aren't enough playmakers in Starkville. Several guys from LaDarius Perkins to Josh Robinson, Jameon Lewis and more are capable of being those guys Mullen uses to create those mismatches he talked about in 2003.
What we are seeing today from Mullen is simply a very watered-down offense, with no pre-snap motion or movement, that either runs a basic run play or, what seems to be, a very basic passing package.
I literally have seen more creativity from high school coaches than what I am seeing from the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. After all, it was Dan Mullen that brought the slogan to Starkville in 2009 that read, "Spread the fun."
Mullen seems to like the dual-threat quarterback over the traditional pocket passer and has one in Dak Prescott. Mullen talks about having a “Dak Package” where he can use Prescott’s skill set to his advantage.
All we see in this package is Prescott coming in on 3rd-and-short down, and running up the middle with everyone knowing what he is about to do.
Mullen’s offense has become a shell of its former self, lost its creativity and now has people second-guessing what the former whiz kid can do.
I urge Mullen to go back and see what made himself and Urban Meyer great. I urge Mullen to go back to the drawing board and remember the days of pre-snap motion, multiple backs in the backfield and plays that kept defenses on their heels.
I urge Dan Mullen to do this because I want to see him succeed in Starkville, and he can—he just needs to remember where this all started, back in 2003.