Monday Bulldog Football Report

A year ago he was hobbling his way through a season shortened by a bad ankle. So if Brandon Henderson seems to be enjoying himself more in 2010…he is. "I'm loving it. I like being one of the senior guys on the team, someone that has a bigger role."

Any role would be an upgrade on Henderson's 2009 experience. Or, lack thereof. He opened the year with high hopes only to badly sprain an ankle, sidelining him until week-ten. Even upon re-activation Henderson wasn't up to SEC speed and he ended the year without a catch.

So when he was on the receiving end of two passes against Memphis in the '10 opener, it was Henderson's real return. He followed that with another catch in the Auburn game, which means two contests into the senior year he's gotten half as many grabs as in all of 2008. It also reinforces Mississippi State's commitment to using tight ends in an expanded gameplan…especially old hands like Marcus Green and Henderson.

Still it surprises some to see Henderson on the field in more pass-pattern applications, given his prior history as a blocking specialist. Not to Henderson himself, though, as old-hand experience has earned a larger role. "I think all that plays a factor. Along with confidence, a new-found confidence that I have in myself," he said.

"I think the coaching staff looks at me not just myself but anyone on the team that played in the game as someone to go to. That's the way it should be. You shouldn't have to look to one person, you should be able to look to anybody."

LOOK, DON'T LISTEN: It's the first road trip of the season for these Bulldogs. Perhaps of more immediate concern though, it will be the first time much of the MSU varsity has made their way to LSU's legendary venue. And of course it will be for an evening kickoff. A heck of a way for a bunch of pups to get a road initiation, agrees Henderson, who has been there before.

So he does have some elder advice to offer. "Don't listen to the fans," Henderson said. "It's a pretty tough environment down there, but you're going in for one purpose and that's to play a game."

Now, tuning-out the howls of LSU faithful on a September evening is easier said than done for any collegian, and first-timers in particular. But it is simply a matter of attending to business, senior tackle Derek Sherrod pointed out.

"Our coaches do a great job of coaching us up during the game, they remind us all the time of what we might need to do in drives. It just keeps our mind focused on the goal at hand." Not just mind, but ears as well. Interestingly, Sherrod said Monday the offensive line doesn't bother much with such counter-tactics as silent snap counts and the like. "On the line we're in tight there so we get the job done, we've never really had that need." But just in case, State coaches said they expect to have the loudspeakers up and running at this week's practices to get players used to distractions.

Decibels can be duplicated. Atmosphere is another matter entirely. "It's going to be pretty memorable," Sherrod forecasted for freshmen making their first Tiger Stadium appearance. In fact, old Dogs think games there are not as much intimidating as distracting with everything going on inside—and outside—the stadium.

"But when the game gets started it's your eleven against their eleven," Henderson said. "It's nothing special, a big stadium and a lot of noise but you really don't hear it."

TRIGGER MEN: Among the Dogs yet to experience the full ambiance of LSU night football are both Bulldog quarterbacks. Chris Relf was a reserve in 2008 and thus not getting into what became an unexpectedly competitive game; and Tyler Russell was still leading Meridian High School to a state championship.

Both will earn their Baton Rouge baptism this Saturday. Coach Dan Mullen is not offering a whole lot of clues as to how he intends to handle the quarterback assignments, not yet anyway. But he does downplay questions about sticking with the older hand more often for the first road game of a season. "It doesn't really change whether at home or away for us with those two," he said.

"It's Monday, and we're going to have a long week of practice and see how everybody performs, how we're picking up the checks and the game plan and those things. Chris will be our starter unless something happens at practice this week and one guy blows away the other guy. As far as rotating them and how we get guys in the game, that's not really going to change for us. We'll look at the plan and later in the week and decide what the rotation will be."

And there is no questioning where that determination comes from. "Coach Mullen tells us when each quarterback is going in and when the other one comes out," said offensive coordinator Les Koenning. "He has a great feel for it and when he wants to change."

Though Mullen at least admits the possibility sometime later in the season of settling on a single quarterback for most situations, the quarterbacks coach finds the early-year rotation of two guys still very much in development to be for their longer-term good. "It's been a great experience for Tyler and it's given Chris a chance to sit back and see the game and understand what is going on," Koenning said.

Besides that, "I think playing with two quarterbacks gets a defense a little wary. They don't know which guy is coming in, they don't know which guy to prepare for. Because each one of them bring different things to the table."

RATINGS GAME: LSU is ranked #15 by Associated Press this week. Mississippi State's last victory at a ranked opponent was in 2007 when the Bulldogs beat #14 Kentucky in Lexington.

Of course Mississippi State's last win in Tiger Stadium was in 1991. Seven of the current Bulldogs, all freshmen, were not born when MSU scored that November 16 success.

The 2009 Bulldogs certainly had their shot at knocking off a Tiger team on Scott Field, with first-and-goal in the final two minutes. It was the third game of Mullen's Mississippi State tenure and still sticks in his and just about everyone else's craw. Four snaps from inside the five-yard line, two of them from not much more than a foot away, all came up short as State lost 30-26. In the end that setback was what kept Mullen's first State squad from earning a bowl bid.

Yes, the coach said, that game will be a topic of team-meeting discussion all week. "We'll talk about it. We had an opportunity to win that game last year, and we didn't." Though, Mullen does not bring up the four-down situation as what this team needs to turn-around in '10.

"We were minus-four in turnover ratio and made critical mistakes and lost the game," he said. "We give up a punt return. Those are things we can correct ourselves. So we'll talk about the errors we made." Since, after all, if it had been the Dogs plus-four in turnovers the game would have been won long before the final series.

That one game seems to have left a larger impression in many minds than usual, because it raises questions about State's ability in late-game pressures. Mullen, however, sees things from another perspective. "We had big wins over the school up north and Kentucky that came down to the wire and we managed to make the plays at the end.

"This year we've had one close game and didn't make the play at the end. That's part of it, when you continually make every play in the game we're going to be a championship team."

MORE TUBE TIME: Mississippi State's home game with Georgia has been scheduled for 6:00 telecast on Fox Sports. A list of local outlets picking up the broadcast will be set in game-week.

Fans hoping to come watch the September 25 home game had better have already obtained their tickets, though. State sold the remaining hundred or so single-game ducats this morning. Last Wednesday, the Ticket Office sold the final season tickets, the first such sellout in program history.

INJURY UPDATE: Mullen reported Sunday and Monday that TE Marcus Green should be able to play at LSU, after missing most of the Auburn game second half with a knee problem. He wore a wrap-type brace on the right knee leaving Scott Field. A MSU official said Green was limited at Monday's practice. His position's depth chart got a little deeper, though, as TE Thomas Webb (hand) is activated for the first time this fall.

The only players definitely out are FB William Shumpert (back surgery), DT Josh Jackson (ankle), and freshman OT Damien Robinson, who had his knee checked on Friday. Robinson was almost certainly redshirting already.

Mullen said Shumpert's surgery, three days before the season kicked off, went well and the Nashville specialist performing the disc procedure forecasts full recovery. "They expect him to be able to play for us," Mullen said. Whether that is this year or not, "That is yet to be determined."

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