Please do not adjust your set or change your channel. This really is Ye Aulde Editer, the acknowledged expert at dousing those aforementioned sparks with dirty ditchwater. I'm not over-amped on caffeine though goodness knows a second Sunday pot of French Roast is coming in handy right now. Especially with the two week run, and I do mean run, coming up. If, I repeat if there are Dawghouses done after the Houston & Florida ventures it'll be on Mondays so allow some road trip slack, please.
Then again MSU motivation comes in many forms and success is the best of them all. And while like y'all I too noted several aspects of continuing concern in yesterday's romp, if not exactly rout, of Alcorn State…there were also strikingly similar signs to what we saw in, oh, say early October 2007. Signs of a State squad with more pieces falling into places to make more plays. Winning plays, that is.
But here's one sign that I doubt Dan Mullen would notice, given his relative newness to our program. Or that even administration veterans have considered for that matter. As we were prepping during the week for game coverage and, as was taken for granted, the win that would push this team over .500 the thought occurred to this old hound. To wit, when Mississippi State has a winning record of any sort, at any point in October, what does that mean in postseason potential?
Your answer: near-certainty.
Seriously. Since 1990, a date chosen for convenience as well as the growth of winter bowling industry in the ensuing two decades, there have been seven (now eight) State squads who were better than break-even during the second month of the season. Six of those preceding squads did indeed earn a bowl berth, and the lone exception stayed home at 7-4. Of course that '97 team, and there is no kinder nor more accurate verb for it, just plain choked down the stretch with concluding losses at a bad Arkansas team and at home to a middling go-for-two Rebel squad. But the '98 and '99 teams made up for it so all is forgiven. Plus a year later the SEC contracted for another auto-berth.
So, there. I've just gone and put pressure on Mullen's men by citing historical precedent. This team is 3-2 a week into October and thus is bound to go bowling, right? Well, we'll see soon enough. Nor am I concerned the coach will be annoyed at this note since nobody applies more pressure to self or team to reach greater goals than Mullen. Anything short of a 13th game in year-two would be a large letdown indeed and that tone was being set as far back as spring training.
Which to yank this briefly back to the present tense makes Houston the next Most Important Game On The Schedule. Just as Georgia was at the time. And just as all remaining dates will be in-turn. I can cite precedent all month long but it's up to the Bulldogs to make their own history, re-beginning this week. Tension? Absolutely, but then isn't that part of the fun in observing a team, a program in progress? We who were there—and for the 5K or so who didn't show, ahem, your absence was noted—yesterday were treated to more encouraging signs of what the 2010 team is capable of.
Numbers only tell part of the tale, though they also tell me that Alcorn State is today a better football team than, say, Memphis. Give that young quarterback receivers of the caliber State is about to see at Houston and yesterday would have been a little too interesting. Which is another way of saying, the Dog defense has a rough week of work in store after having some coverage issues exposed. You can trust the Cougar club is going over this tape in detail today.
By the way, reckon New Hampshire native Mullen still has any Canadian contacts able to locate a comparable quarterback to Mr. Bridge? The Great White North has provided some other useful imports after all; I consider Rush's "Red Barchetta" the finest car song ever, and folk who imbibe such stuff report their breweries aren't bad. OK, so the Ford 351 Cleveland block was stouter than the Windsor version. Point remains if there's another like that up there then go get him. I mean, this is a coach who'll scout and scour far and wide for a productive playmaker and Alcorn State's triggerman was some kind of sharp. Envision him running this system.
But then don't take the above as a criticism of State's current varsity quarterbacks. All three of them. Darn right I'm counting Chad Bumphis in that number and not merely as a ‘wild' runner. We know he can throw; after all the very first offensive snap of the Mullen era saw then-frosh Bumphis take a reverse pitch and heave it a mile against Jackson State. (Notice, parenthetically, how the Tupelo kid has ravaged SWAC defenses in two games for four touchdown catches on 155 yards.) My technophobical mind is still a bit boggled that Bumphis was informed by Mullen of his expanding role last week not in a meeting room or even phone call but by text message.
Yet Bumphis has made no bones about his ambition to do more than run patterns and reverses. He is such an obvious wild Dog--I prefer Mad Dog but Mullen refuses to tag a title just yet—that his chance to chunk just has to come soon, right? "Yeah, I'm going to stay on him about it! So either I'll do it or I'll, I mean…" Bumphis said Saturday. I suggested he might want to stop before saying too much. "Yeah!" Bumphis said with a grin that promises he won't drop the topic in more private settings.
And it isn't just Bumphis holding the wild card now. LaDarius Perkins got a few direct snaps of his own yesterday too, and he learned a valuable lesson with the interception against Georgia. When, or is it if, he ever gets healthy the thought of Marcus Green in such a setting is fascinating at least to me, though I really like the plan of getting the tight end more shovel passes. I reckon Vick Ballard could get it done there as well, running at least.
Get down to it though and the best wild Dog on the team is…why, it is Chris Relf his own self. He's already there in prime position to make plays, so I wouldn't look for wholesale use of other wild sets. Naturally we've heard from fans asking if State has any notion of using Relf as a straight runner while Tyler Russell takes the snaps. In fact we asked Tyler last week if that had been a practice item. He answered in the negative, kinda. Which is as good as saying heck yes this staff has considered such things but isn't ready to show it in a must-make situation. Or is it not yet?
Even if State was both "sloppy" and "herky-jerky" as Mullen said today, the fact remains the Dogs got the expected W and did it without overworking Relf in contact terms. One sack and two other rushes were a lighter day's work at a good time considering the pressures of the previous three SEC weekends. Interestingly though Mullen said today this was not so much by-plan, even the Alcorn State plan.
"We're going to do what we need to do to win the game. The gameplan every day is get the ball to our playmakers and we did, we were able to limit his carries and I was pleased with that. And we got the ball to our playmakers which I was pleased with." Or as Mullen added, "If Chris has to carry more he will; if not he won't. I think that's going to be more a week to week deal than a gameplan."
The encouraging news was ASU gave State playmakers more chances to work on making bigger plays. Mullen reported no less than 15 of what he calls ‘explosive' plays of a dozen yards or more and yet that included Leon Berry's 97-yard kickoff gallop. Bumphis and Ballard had their big days too, and while fans fume about giving him the short-yard responsibility I still like Perkins more each week. Let's give credit to the offensive line as well for two solid weekends. I do wish Addison Lawrence had held his ‘block' on a Brave safety just a little longer so we could see how much momentum Tobias Smith might have mustered on the fumble run. Then again, he might have busted one of those fragile ankles so I should shut up.
But not before returning to the concern of the week and the opportunity of the month. Rest assured Manny Diaz will spend much of today and Tuesday reminding both the defensive rush and secondary coverage where they missed players and plays alike yesterday. They could do so against Alcorn with minimal cost; Houston by contrast will take similar slack and make the Bulldogs pay dearly. At least, as Mullen reminded today, the defense did shut ASU down and out after halftime. Rest assured the Dog defense also remembers ‘holding' last year's Houston attack to ‘only' four touchdowns with all-world Case Keenum at the trigger. This is a better defense with a year's experience to call on, against a still-new quarterback replacing one of the game's best. And yes, Mullen did recruit UH's Terrance Broadway last year as he reminded today.
"I'm sure he's going to be more comfortable in game two than in game one," Mullen said.
At the same time State is earning a degree of increased comfort here in year two, too. They can look back a year as well and see how close that squad was to out-scoring Houston. Yes, Mullen still fumes over the wrongbadignoranthowdheblowthatone over-the-line pass call that cost State a key fourth-down touchdown; as well as a turnover that deflated the Dogs and ultimately allowed the Cougars to break the fourth-quarter deadlock with Keenum TD tosses.
Point being his offense moved the ball almost as well as UH a year ago and, like the defense, is better for their season-ing since. Combine that with a timely reality check yesterday at items better exposed by Alcorn State than Houston, and it is a more justifiably confident club hitting the road this weekend.
And, a Bulldog team that will be reminded how pivotal this month is in achieving their postseason goal. Twenty of these players were on the roster and a few of them even in the games back in 2007. They can tell their younger teammates that what happens in October goes a long, long way to sending Mississippi State on a holiday trip.
A trip that given what has been happening around the rest of the SEC and on the East side particularly the last two weeks could ultimately be in a southeasterly direction, even. Grit your teeth and agree, it was good for MSU that Kentucky took the Oxford loss yesterday, as one example. But that's material for another October column as more such stuff shakes out.