JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi State middle linebacker Jamar Chaney expects to spend a lot of time with Josh Nesbitt this weekend.
The quarterback for 25th-ranked Georgia Tech carried the ball 32 times in last weekend’s win over North Carolina and Chaney expects the same sort of attack when the Yellow Jackets visit Starkville tonight.
"When you’re a playmaker like he is, you like to have your hands on the ball," Chaney said. "So I’m pretty sure he likes to carry it that many times."
The Yellow Jackets (3-1) knocked off Mississippi State 38-7 last season in Atlanta as the Bulldogs couldn’t stop Georgia Tech’s triple option offense — even after Nesbitt went down with an early injury. But the Bulldogs (2-2) have a few more weapons for this year’s contest.
Starting with Chaney, who did not play. A playmaker with a knack for finding the ball, he missed all but one game last season with a broken leg. He watch helplessly as the Bulldogs gave up big runs, including Jonathan Dwyer’s Georgia Tech-record 88-yard touchdown.
Mississippi State also now has a coach who knows a little bit about running the spread option. Dan Mullen not only runs a similar style of offense, though with a smidge more passing, but he spent a fair amount of time talking with Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson about the system.
Their first encounter came several years ago when Mullen was an assistant coach under Urban Meyer at Utah and Johnson was the coach at Navy. They have talked by phone occasionally since then.
Mullen wondered about the intricacies of Johnson’s offense and how he might incorporate it into his own. While the two offenses look very different at the line of scrimmage — Mullen’s quarterback is in the shotgun formation and there are always lots of receivers spread around; Johnson’s No. 4 rushing offense puts Nesbitt under center and relies more heavily on running backs — Johnson sees nothing that separates the two once the ball is snapped.
"The thing that’s a misnomer, and I’ve said it before, what they’re doing is not that different than what we’re doing," Johnson said. "They’ve got all the receivers and this and that and they’re in the gun, but if you look at the stats I think they throw for about 20 yards more per game than we are. They’re a running football team and a lot of the blocking schemes are similar and a lot of stuff is very similar."
The Bulldogs have benefited from Chaney’s return, the defense is ranked 31st. With Chaney making plays all over the field, Mississippi State held Vanderbilt and LSU to 63 total rushing yards combined.
That’s quite the turnaround from the Auburn game, where the Tigers racked up 390 yards on the ground against the Bulldogs.
"We’ve since then made some adjustments and I think our guys are buying into those adjustments," Mullen said. "We’re trying all we can to make sure that never happens again. Our run defense will have their hands full this weekend with Georgia Tech. We’ll face a different scheme than we’re used to, but we’re playing with some confidence and we’ll have to continue to do so if we want to be successful."
Mississippi State gave up 438 yards to Georgia Tech last season and Chaney watched as the Bulldogs appeared clueless at times. Chaney played at a high school where the wishbone was featured and knows a thing or two about stopping the option. He was counseling his teammates this week and says the solution is deceptively simple.
"It wasn’t like they were breaking tackles," Chaney said. "They were wide open. So we just have to do a better job on our assignments. Like if you have the dive, stay on the dive. If you have the quarterback, stay on the quarterback. If you got the pitch, go to the pitch. Do your job and everything else takes care of itself."