"It was me," said Saulsberry. "If he can't go I tell him hey, you just sit this one out; if you can go, go." Naturally Brignone would have preferred to keep going, and the senior definitely intends to be back in his usual start slot by 6:00 this Saturday. But neither did he dispute his comrade's command.
"He didn't argue, he definitely ain't going to argue with me!" joked Saulsberry. "He tried to work some and I tried to take some pressure off him." And after all, "We always had that even before the injury occurred. Me, him, Tobias Smith, we were always rotating, know what I'm saying?"
What Saulsberry is saying is Mississippi State's line adapts to circumstances and keeps on pounding away. Literally, in their last two games, where the Bulldog offense has rushed the football 106 times compared to 32 passes. They've done so the last six quarters without Brignone, who had a 30-game starting streak ended by a sprained knee in the second quarter at Houston. Nobody pretends the offensive front is better without him of course.
But neither has anyone panicked. Not with Saulsberry assuming the central spot these past six periods, and third-fall sophomore Smith toughing it out an entire night at Florida; the most action he's seen in any game to date. Saulsberry likes the compliments being sent the line's way this week, but adds this is just due to improved efficiency.
"It's all about executing. We can tell a person we're fixing to run this and run right here, it's all about executing. It's not that hard when you know what to do and execute at a high level." In fact, the junior said, this attitude is showing everywhere. "It builds the confidence of the whole offense, not just the backs and line. You see receiver making key blocks, it's contagious. When the o-line is positive everything is positive."
And all will be that much more positive when Brignone returns to the field. Until then, "Whatever they want me to do, I'll do," Saulsberry said. "But I'm used to it now, I was doing it before. It's just getting into a routine and continuing doing it."
Routine does not mean staying satisfied, though. Saulsberry graded out around 90% in his first start at center but noticed aspects to his Gainesville play that could stand improving. The same applies to his 2010 track record at right guard, by the way.
"I did a little bit of both positions during practice today," he said. "Wherever they needed me to go. As far as this week, just get better at the things I've been doing. Making steps, getting the fundamentals, not getting sloppy. Or not just focusing on one thing. To me it's all the same thing, I'm just snapping the ball."
Make that, snapping it better. Saulsberry made QB Chris Relf reach down to catch his direct snaps, almost every one. None were hiked right into awaiting hands as Brignone does consistently. Fortunately all snaps were handled cleanly and since State was running all evening Relf rarely had to straighten, re-scan the field, and find a target. Had the Dogs been passing a lot more, this might have become an issue.
So, "I've been working on my snaps and just getting them up!" Saulsberry said. "And getting the timing with the offense better, because it all starts with me. It starts with the center. It wasn't a big deal. But like Coach says whatever you're messing up on now if you don't fix it, it will bite you later."
GROWING UP FAST: He's only a true sophomore but WR Chad Bumphis finds himself the ‘old' man of his Bulldog bunch. Not even by virtue of the still-young age as there are several other sophs and redshirts on the 2010 roster; but based on his precocious performances to date.
"That's pretty much what Coach Mullen says, that's how he wants me to look at it," said Bumphis. "So I have to take a leadership role now." This has been thrust on Bumphis by the season-ending injury to lone senior Leon Berry.
Of course Bumphis was already setting a squad pace. As a true frosh he caught a team-best 32 passes with four touchdowns. He has just surpassed the catch total with 33, having snagged a throw at Florida. And he's more than topped his '09 yardage of 375 with 461 in just seven soph outings. If he were to keep this pace up for the next two-and-a-half seasons, there wouldn't be many MSU receiving records not showing his name.
For now though his priority is helping the entire receiver corps take up slack left by injury to Berry, as well as the loss of TE Marcus Green. Yes, he is being asked to become a unit leader… "But me and Brandon Heavens have the same amount of experience, basically. So we both look at is as we both have to step up, play a little bit better, and grow up." Ditto for second-fall classmates like Arceto Clark, Chris Smith, et.al. And Bumphis has hopes converted CB Maurice Langston will add some speed to this rotation. "The dude can run! So it's about him learning plays now."
Meanwhile Bumphis continues to practice his skills as a runner, since he is—or at least until this past game was—the ‘wild' Dog back. At Florida, the honor was given to TB Vick Ballard for a snap. Bumphis has not been demoted, though.
"I asked Coach Mullen and he said it was just switching up! Hopefully I get back there soon." It's getting a big crowded at the single back slot though. "We've got four I know; Vick, Perkins, me, and Brandon." And of course QB Chris Relf, the wildest of Bulldog backs already.
Bumphis and the Bulldogs have gotten very used to running the football, as noted above. At Houston and Florida, the ground game was capable of carrying such a load and winning. Still there is bound to be a need for stretching defenses with a consistent air attack in weeks to come, so Bumphis said it is up to the receivers to prove they can carry their share.
"Like Coach Mullen talks about, you have to make the most of your opportunities when you get the chance. At Florida, after the first half we got the picture, it was about winning. But we have to continue to grow. We're all so young, and we have to show them what we do in practice and give them confidence."
BRING A BROOM? Mississippi State is going for the first sweep of non-conference opposition in a season since the 2000 campaign. For that matter no Bulldog team has won four non-league games in a regular season since 1990, back in the day of the six-game SEC slate.
Should the Dogs go 4-0 in non-conference action this fall, they will also have beaten three Conference USA foes. And in the other two earlier wins State scored 49 points (Memphis) and 47 (Houston).
GET YER TICKETS HERE: Mississippi State announced a special ticket plan Wednesday for the final two home football games with a December basketball game tossed in for good measure.
The package includes the October 30 Kentucky game and the November 20 Arkansas game; and a ticket to any of the four consecutive non-SEC home basketball games from December 11-14. The choices in order are East Tennessee, North Carolina A&T, Nicholls STate, and Alabama State. The three-game, two-sport package is $75, or some $40 less than if all ducats were bought separately.
The MSU Ticket Office is taking orders at 1-888-GO-DAWGS or at www.mstateathletics.com.