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2017 TaxSlayer Bowl Opponent Breakdown: Mississippi State Offense

MSU will enter the bowl game without their head coach but the offense should be somewhat similar to what it was all year.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Arkansas Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since I started doing these breakdowns a handful of years ago, the opposing team doesn’t have a coach or coordinator that I can actually base anything off of. Dan Mullen took the Florida job after the regular season and he’s already brought his coordinators with him to start recruiting and evaluating. That leaves a handful of coaches behind to figure out what plays to call and what identity they will even have on both sides of the ball.

On offense, I would expect things to be a little more status quo because the system has been in place for a good while. Mullen has been pretty steady in his offensive style and Interim head coach Greg Knox should be able to at least mimic things as he was the run game coordinator.

Knox being tasked with the running game is fitting as he will be starting a true freshman at quarterback who hasn’t shown the ability to throw the ball extremely well as of yet. Keytaon Thompson will make his first start of the season after Nick Fitzgerald’s ankle was dislocated and/or broken in the Egg Bowl. The offense was centered around the quarterback before but I’m not so sure that the Bulldogs will rely on Thompson as much.

Thompson is a big quarterback that was compared to Cam Newton coming out of high school. He put up 72 total touchdowns last year for one of the best programs in Louisiana and was a big steal for MSU in the class. However, I don’t think anyone expected him to have to play this season. Mullen got him into nine games this season in ether garbage time or planned plays to get him experience, but his inexperience showed in their big rivalry game against Ole Miss. Thompson struggled to get comfortable in the pocket and he also struggled to make quick decisions when running the ball. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he is the prototype for a power spread type of offense that Mullen ran but he needs to show that he can create big plays like Fitzgerald did.

The running back spot for MSU is very strong in my opinion but they weren’t relied on all too much because of Fitzgerald’s running ability. Aeris Williams is a 1,000 yard rusher with Kylin Hill backing him up with over six yards per carry. Both backs are big guys who can rip off a big run at any minute. Hill is the more talented player, in my opinion, but Williams is a consistent performer who played very well in some of their bigger games this year. Louisville offer much resistance against the best backs on the schedule this year but they have to find a way to slow down the Dogs rushing attack in the bowl game.

MSU lost their top receiver from last year and they haven’t had a single player that has stepped up to even soften that blow. You can typically tell where a team struggles by looking at their incoming recruiting class. MSU’s top three signees are wide receivers and they’re all very good. The staff knew they didn’t have the horses at this spot and went hard after some top guys. This is an area where an aggressive approach by Peter Sirmon could pay off. There isn’t too much of a threat for the receivers to beat you.

The Bulldog offensive line is the strong point of the offense. Martinas Rankin is one of the best tackles in the country and should help Thompson avoid an improved pass rush. The line is a veteran group that has been really good from a run blocking standpoint while also doing well to keep Fitzgerald clean in the pocket. Ole Miss had a lot of success with pressure packages against this line so I could see Peter Sirmon trying to do the same with the lack of threats in the passing game to worry about.