Friday Bowl-Dog Practice Report

The Gator Bowl will kick off shortly after 11:00am central. So why not have a bowl practice in the same time slot? Even the weather cooperated with conditions similar to what Mississippi State expects in Jacksonville on New Years Day, and Dan Mullen took advantage.

The Bulldogs worked in full-padding Friday for about two hours, and while the practice script was similar to that of previous days there looked to be more emphasis on team competition. The 7-on-7 periods were shortened slightly so more snaps could be taken in 11-on-11 situations, whether full-field or red-zone. There was even a good goal-line period Friday where the hitting got more serious than usual for bowl camp.

For that matter though all the team-on-team periods were worth watching, even if starters and many of the alternates were excused. This was in keeping with Mullen's December routine where the first week of campus camp focuses on personnel who should contend for open jobs or maybe even create their own openings in spring training. Only when numbers were needed, such as linebackers or receivers, did Dogs who started a 2012 game take any turns today.

Not often among them were either QB Tyler Russell, who would have been limited anyway by the right ankle sprained late in the Gator Bowl; or HB LaDarius Perkins who did nothing more than basic drills early. Ditto for the starting offensive and defensive lines. Starting receivers, linebackers and defensive backs did have to participate briefly in the 7-on-7 or pass/skel series for a while, to stay sharp. And of course alternate QB Dak Prescott worked many more snaps than in real season, with only walk-ons to spell him once Russell was excused.

The starter did throw a 7-on-7 touchdown to WR Jameon Lewis who was likely the offensive star of the whole day with more end-zone catches ahead. Russell did not participate at all Thursday, sticking to what Mullen explained was a day-on/day-off rotation this week. The goal is to have him ready, or readier, to run the offense on Monday when specific preparations for Northwestern begin.

WR Brandon Heavens scored on the second snap of pass-skel in the red zone beating both safeties in the process. TE Gus Walley caught another score but it was again Lewis showing off with two open grabs in the end zone, once getting a step on starting CB Darius Slay for an out-route catch and score. The best play in the period though was by Prescott as he bought time on a rollout, and found WR Chris Smith between two defenders for the goal-line connection.

Beyond that it was another long day for Mississippi State's second and third and even fourth units, though the coaching staff paid them the compliment of still calling the initial group ‘ones' and so on. To the humor of the true starters who had set aside helmets by then to enjoy watching youngsters get after each other. And they did.

On the second snap of full-team play WR Brandon Holloway came off the left-slot and got just enough angle on freshman S Deontay Evans for the midfield catch and runaway, a 80-yard touchdown off Jamil Golden's throw. Prescott made a fine rollout strike to WR Robert Johnson under pressure to cap another series, as saving only for Holloway's breakaway these sequences stopped after a scripted number of plays.

Not so when the action moved to red zone. It took four series, two by both units, before the second (nee third) offense got points, with Lewis of course making the open catch and touchdown off Prescott's throw. That was from the 20-yard line. Starting at the 12, the first (nee second) offense immediately scored as RB Josh Robinson bounced to the left end and got inside the pylon untouched.

At the two-yard line a goal-line defense was shown with five interior guys, built around DT Curtis Virges, DT Quay Evans, and DT Jordan Washington. But with the defense reading run TE Brandon Hill went untouched behind everyone for the easy touchdown catch from Prescott. The next such situation had the offense rush up to the line for a fast snap; and again instead of running it was a throwing play with Prescott again finding the wide-open Hill.

The third teams also took their turn in goal-line/hurry-up. Golden didn't throw, he bootlegged all the way around right end for the concluding touchdown.

The offense didn't have it all their way. Evans got some payback when he picked off Golden on a sideline throw. TE Rufus Warren was briefly open for the catch before LB Matt Wells stuck him from the side and rattled the ball free. And when walk-on back Kasey Akins tried left guard he was swallowed-up almost literally by DT Nick James. On the next play Akins went to the center and guess who was waiting there again.

WR Joe Morrow paid for making an over-the-middle catch and move. He was held up long enough for DE Torrey Dale to hammer him. On the next series CB Taveze Calhoun made a great leaping interception in front of Robert Johnson, came down with the ball, and fumbled it back to the receiver.

Quarterbacks were off-limits but with a head of steam nobody was stopping James on his rush, as he got a hand on Golden and spun the passer around…then did his now-expected celebration move of a couple of stomping-steps and point to his cheering defensive mates on the sideline. Unfortunately such won't be allowed in real games.

LB Beniquez Brown also picked off Golden, in the goal-line period; and DE A.J. Jefferson was able to blitz and knock the ball out of Golden's hand before he threw for a forced fumble.

*Sitting out the day for rehab with injuries were CB Cedric Jiles (right ankle), OG Ben Beckwith (right leg), and CB Xavier Grindle (preseason knee injury). DE Denico Autry was excused with illness. RB Nick Griffin is recovering from Thursday surgery on his right knee ligament.

*The only in-practice injury noted was to LB Chris Hughes, who stayed down after making a hard stop. After a couple minutes he was helped off a little dazed with what looked like a stinger issue. TE Gus Walley came up gimpy after one tackle but seemed OK.

*With Griffin out now, the running back order after starter Perkins was Derrick Milton and Robinson, with walk-on Akins getting more totes than anyone. Whether he enjoyed it at times as reported was a good question. Besides those stops from big James, he was laid-out after a catch in red zone by S Quadry Antoine.

*Punt return practice put veteran Lewis and redshirt Holloway to work early. Once Holloway broke clear through half-speed coverage for an easy return. But punter Baker Swedenburg didn't let the rookie go untouched, pushing him out at the five-yard line.

*Kickoff work was more about coverage than returning, judging by the use of CBs Jamerson Love and Will Redmond to field the ball. Often as not they had to recover their own drops in fact. The primary cover-squad featured regulars like LB Cam Lawrence, WR Ricco Sanders, S Dee Arrington, LB Christian Holmes, Robinson, R.Johnson, TE Malcolm Johnson, and WR Lewis.

*In one-on-one passing/coverage drills from the five-yard line, WR Smith made a fine catch in one corner from Russell. The other corner was more interesting and Russell—intentionally—let Holloway chase his throw so far that the kid ended up in the cedar trees. With the ball, though.

*There were no changes noted in the first-team lineups on either side Friday. And the second units at the line of scrimmage seem to be settled for now as well. Defensively there is more mixing-and-matching at linebacker so as to get redshirts Richie Brown and Beniquez Brown and still-young Zach Jackson working with regulars like Matthew Wells and Ferlando Bohanna.

At safety, redshirts Antoine and Evans found their way onto the field together behind the second front at times, spelling the Kendrick Market-Louis Watson combo. The first safeties remain Nickoe Whitley and Jay Hughes or increasingly Dee Arrington.

*Punt rush was also emphasized early Friday and while nothing was blocked the pressure came close. The injured Beckwith, one of the blockers, was replaced by DT Devin Jones. At one point for the fun of it the second protect-unit ran a fake with DE Ryan Brown taking the direct snap, and he made it work for a first down too.

*Mullen and much of the staff left immediately after practice for Friday recruiting trips. They have to be back quickly though as Mississippi State has a 9:00 morning practice Saturday. And there is a Sunday afternoon scrimmage scheduled, though the weather forecast is iffy as of now. The 2:00 scrimmage is open.

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