I watched the game again yesterday, keeping an eye specifically on the right side of the offensive line and on the right defensive end.
I don't know who MSU's left tackle is, but he did an excellent job on Kirston Pittman and Rahim Alem for much of the competitive portions of the game. MSU was able to effectively neutralize those two with just one guy. They never doubled on the right end, never blocked with a tight end out there, and never put the running back on him. For most of the first half, those two were unable to make or disrupt a play.
That changed in the second half, once it became clear that MSU was not really in it anymore. I didn't notice if they changed out left tackles, but Pittman and Alem were a lot more effective in the second half than they were in the first, though Alem did get pancaked at least once.
The right side of the offensive line was just as nightmarish the second time around as it was the first. While it's not like they were blown up every play, they seemed to let their men disrupt the majority of plays. Carnell Stewart really struggled against an undersized, but talented and very quick defensive end. Perhaps Stewart is too accustomed to playing against Tyson Jackson, who's bigger and more of a power defensive end.
Like I said before, the whole offensive line had its issues, and I really think that was the primary cause of all of the offensive difficulties we had. We had only one drive of longer than 45 yards. If MSU didn't give us a short field, we didn't score, except for the first drive of the second half, which was impressive.
The offense had its issues. In particular, we did not throw any passes down the field, and the running game was not able to consistently put up yards. Our longest play of night was 21 yards. If we're going to win championships, we will have to be able to make big plays and not simply "move the chains." If you play "move the chains" football, you end up having a game where you can't get more than 45 yards on a series. You have to at least have the possibility of getting big yardage plays.
I think most of the problems of the offense can be attributed to the problems on the offensive line. We will simply have to improve there if we're going to beat the Auburns and Floridas of the world. One of the few really insightful things the ESPN announcers said was when the one guy said something to the effect of, "You can't win in this conference if you can't control the offensive line, and you can't do it with smoke and mirrors." You have to have good players there, and they have to play well.
Last year, our offensive line struggled at first and then came on strong in midseason. Poor early season line play probably cost us the Auburn game. We won't have the luxury of waiting until mid-season this year, unless we don't mind losing to Virginia Tech. Losing to VT wouldn't be the end of the world, but it might be the end of our national championship hopes.
If the offensive line makes big strides, Flynn will be able to look downfield more because the longer routes will have time to develop. The running game will be able to get yards more consistently. Trindon Holliday will be able to cut upfield. Flynn won't have to run for his life.
That will be the key to beating VT.
Today, my wife's family is coming over to visit. They're Bama fans, and we're getting the Bama game on Pay-Per-View. I'll probably try to catch most of the Virginia Tech game, though I'm not sure I'll be able to stomach ESPN's saccharine coverage of the shootings. I mean no disrespect to those who lost loved ones or those who were otherwise affected, but ESPN really makes me gag sometimes. I guess once the game actually starts, it'll be tolerable.
I don't have a whole lot of interest in watching the Bama game because there are better games on at that time. In particular, I want to see Auburn play K-State, and I'll definitely keep up with Tennessee-Cal.