Bumphis has done his part this season, just as he did the last by setting the pass-catching pace. In fact his 32 catches this season match what he did all last freshman year, as do his four touchdowns. His H-receiver cohort Brandon Heavens is next at 12 catches and two scores. When Green went down, Mullen used both the Hs to overcome lack of receiving tight ends, so that won't be much of a change in this increased case.
Though, Bumphis clarified, "We're both still pretty much paying the same position. And our outside receivers stay to a side, so they have to know both sides." Which means State does have fair flexibility with the X and Y receivers able to line up as needed outside. Still, this is putting a greater load on fewer folk, not to mention all-underclassmen.
"Being younger, I mean now we've just got sophomores and redshirt freshmen so like Coach Mullen said we're just going to have to grow up quicker," said Bumphis. "I think Leon getting hurt just made us grow up. Just want to step up and know we have to carry it because we don't have a senior leader out there. It's just on our shoulders now."
Could there be more shoulders joining the fray this week? Mississippi State is accelerating the development of second-fall frosh such as Ricco Sanders and true rookie Michael Carr. Bumphis even reported other rookies are getting more practice snaps this week. "A few of them have been taking reps, like Malcolm Johnson and Robert Johnson, and they've been looking pretty good actually." That is not to say these as-yet-redshirting frosh will be seen Saturday, if for no other reason than the SEC road game roster limit of 70 players leaves little room to carry extras.
So, Bumphis said, it is a matter of using what is already at hand and doing it better. "And most of the guys on special teams," he speculated. "We've got receivers that haven't played that can play that are already travelling. So think we'll be fine. You never know, though, it just depends on how we do. How the ones who have been playing do."
Especially playing against a Florida defense that is not in a good mood after consecutive league losses. The Gator secondary has been burned a few times this fall, but Bumphis and company don't downplay the challenge. Bumphis has watched the scouting tape, after all.
"Same athletes, they're good and fast," he said. "Same guys that are the typical Florida players. We'll just have to execute the gameplan." Execute a whole lot better than last year, he means. In 2009 State did not score an offensive touchdown in the 29-19 loss, and was limited to 145 passing yards. Bumphis himself had an evening to forget with a single grab for just three yards. Yes, he's been scanning that old tape as well as this year's Florida video for clues to better results in the rematch.
"On film they did a bunch of corner-overs, so it could either a corner or a safety covering me," he said. "So I'm preparing for both."
But is he preparing for his other occasional duty as a wild back? Bumphis really did run wild against Alcorn State two weeks ago, but only ran once at Houston. As for going back to wild work at quarterback this week, "I doubt it," he said but admitted it remains an unpredictable case by case call from the head coach.
"I'm just ready for whatever. We haven't done anything extra but if it happens I'm ready for it. You'd never know with Coach Mullen, he may tell me to get back there. I don't know right now."
POINTS MAN: He's only half way into a debut Dog season and TB Vick Ballard isn't just on a pace to break scoring records. The junior transfer should shatter some Mississippi State standards by the end of 2010.
Through six games Ballard has found an end zone a dozen times; eleven via rushing from scrimmage and another on a option-flip ruled a forward pass in the Georgia game. Either way, his twelve touchdowns are not just best at MSU this mid-season; Ballard is leading the whole Southeastern Conference in: rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and total points.
"It's a good feeling," said Ballard as those lines on the latest SEC stat standings were pointed out to him. "But without the o-line and everybody else blocking I couldn't do it. So I give credit there."
Rightly so. Yet Ballard is due no small amount of credit on his own MSU merits. He's done more than score with a team-best 418 rushing yards and net gain of 7.2 per carry. And Ballard has shown a somewhat surprising turn of college speed, with breakaways of 75, 64, 51 yards and other big breakers.
"We thought he would be a very steady player," Coach Dan Mullen said. Now Ballard has verged on being a special player, running towards a special MSU record. It was in 1952 that Jackie Parker scored 16 touchdowns, in nine games; no Bulldog since has topped that mark though in 2007 Anthony Dixon tied it with 14 rushing scores and two TD catches. That was in 13 games.
Now here is Ballard closing in, fast. Maybe he paid heed to what his coach says about junior college players: "You have less of a window" according to Mullen to get things done as a transfer.
Mullen isn't surprised though that Ballard has adapted to the college game so quickly, and not just because he was able to enroll in spring. "He had the best work ethic on the team," the coach said. "He was a leader by example. From day-one he's been what he was advertised. His weight room work is awesome, his off-season attitude was fantastic. Fortunately for him he's picked it up fast. And I see him getting more and more comfortable in the offense every week."
Ballard shrugs off such praise for such work as just, well, just being himself. "I mean, I've always been big on effort, know what I'm saying? Really I just get it from my Dad. He'd tell me if you're going to do something don't just lag around, go hard. That's what I try to live by and it's just part of my personality."
TAKING TURNS: With Ballard piling up the points at such record pace, it raises the natural question of should he get even more chances to gain ground and score touchdowns? Ballard scored three times at Houston on 14 carries, but alternate TB LaDarius Perkins had 12 rushes of his own for 78 yards and another MSU touchdown. And TB Rob Elliott got to tote 11 times himself for 43 yards.
So, why not let the lead Dog take on even more of the weekly load? Ballard counters, why not keep a good thing going? He doesn't mind sharing the snaps and the stats with his cohorts.
"I'm pretty much used to it now," Ballard said. "I mean, I ain't mad at it! It's a good thing and by doing that it keeps us healthy week-in and week-out. We can hold up all season. When you look at it from an individual standpoint you might want to get more carries. But at the end of the day it's a good thing, know what I'm saying?"
The fact is though when the Bulldogs bull down near the goal line, defenses know who is most likely to take any handoffs. In short they will be looking for Ballard, right"
"I don't know," said Ballard. "And I don't care. I just try to do my job."
If he could conceivably keep doing that job at his current rate—difficult to imagine but not impossible—Ballard can at least think about SEC status. He is exactly half-way to the league's records for both season touchdowns (24) and points (144) set by Alabama's Shaun Alexander in 1999.