T. Smith: Bulldog offense needs confidence

Malik Heath eyes down his own fumble on the opening drive of this past weekend's game against the LSU Tigers.

The Mississippi State University Bulldogs were faced with their first Southeastern Conference opponent of the season, Louisiana State University, and unfortunately shot themselves in the foot multiple times. This is the second time this season we have seen the last-second scramble to win from the Dawgs, and fans should commend the athletes for never giving up, but this time it was not enough. However, this does not mean fans should give up on the team. This same "never give up" grit won the baseball team a national championship. If the offense can become more confident and stop overthinking plays in the first three quarters, this team can make a comeback and end the season in a bowl game. This team can consistently be what they were against NC State. 

The defense made some mistakes, one resulting in the injury of key player and sophomore cornerback Emmanuel Forbes, but they are the reason the Bulldogs were not completely blown out of the water. Looking at the scoreboard, one would assume the defense was subpar, but each of the LSU touchdowns was awarded due to a deep ball. The shortest yardage on an LSU touchdown was 11 yards, and that is the outlier. The other three were 64, 58 and 41 yards respectively. When a defense relies heavily on the blitz, big plays are inevitably going to be given up to the opposing team, but it is up to the Bulldog offense to answer to those big plays with deep balls of their own. It is also worth noting that when the offense had that fire lit under them in the final quarter, the defense held LSU to 28 points after their final touchdown occurred with 11:32 left on the clock. That gave the offense plenty of opportunity to make up the 18 points they were down. In the fourth quarter, directly before MSU's final touchdown and two-point conversion, the defense refused to allow LSU to gain so much as a first down.

The offense and special teams equally share the blame for this week's loss. Will Rogers threw a total of 14 incomplete passes while LSU quarterback Max Johnson only threw nine. While the accuracy was a bit off on a few of those throws, it seemed as if the receivers had butter fingers more in this game than any other. On top of that, the team was unable to make that final drive for a touchdown on multiple occasions and regularly weakened tremendously when in the red zone. This comes back to playing without confidence. 

"We're a team that has to know good things are going to happen. Right now, we kind of hope things will happen. What I see is a team that can make a lot of plays, and I see a team that will take themselves out of drives because they don't have that focus," Head Coach Mike Leach said after the game. 

Coach Leach sees the lack of confidence in his players and attributes that to the lack of experience.

"There's got to be an expectation, something that comes with experience," Leach said.

Fans often jump to message boards and social media pages to berate the team, but forget how young they are. Rogers, Walley, Forbes and McCord are all sophomores, some with only freshman eligibility. Many of the key players have not been playing college football as long as fans like to believe. However, their age does not excuse making seemingly silly mistakes such as a missed field goal, shield jump or repeatedly dropping balls. These mistakes are what cost the Bulldogs the win this weekend, but with every loss, the team and coaches become more aware of vital focus points in practice.

"We have got to be more consistent; we have to expect success ... The first half is a point we need to focus on for sure. We pick it up in the second half and look good ... We have to do four 15 minutes," senior wide receiver Austin Williams said.

Williams said he shares coach Leach's judgements on the offense's confidence and expecting the success the team has proven to be capable of. This is a focal point Williams is looking to improve on heading into the weekend against Texas A&M. 

Another point worth noting, the Bulldogs almost doubled the Tigers' average yards per rush. Not only does this highlight how the run game has been more evident under Leach this season, but also how the defense holds back the offense when it does not come to deep plays. The defense also totaled -15 yards for LSU in sacks where the Tiger defense only cost the Bulldogs -2 yards. The defense is the backbone of this team at the moment, but if the offense can garner confidence, get out of their heads and instinctively perform, the Bulldogs have a solid shot at giving the Aggies hail. 

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