Tuesday Evening Bulldog Football Notebook

With a still-fresh ranking, bowl eligibility assured, and opportunity for a winning season upcoming, all would seem well with Mississippi State this week. No, it can never be that easy. A couple of SEC side-issues have managed to keep Bulldog Country roiled: confirmation that MSU faces fines for cowbells at games this year, and suspension of a player for an unpenalized hit last Saturday.

Athletic director Scott Stricklin has confirmed to media that he has been informed by the SEC Office that the new-for-2010 league policy instituting fines for ‘artificial noisemakers' used by fans at conference games is being applied. Mississippi State has been fined for cowbells being used outside prescribed circumstances during the two conference games at Scott Field. How much these fines are has not been stated by either State or the SEC.

But in August the league released the fine structure to go with the May revision of SEC policy on noisemakers; i.e. the ‘cowbell rule' since only MSU manages to run afoul of such regulations. The SEC can fine a school $5,000 for the game where such a violation is judged to have happened by league representatives; then $25,000 for the next game; and $50,000 for succeeding games. The rule only applies to conference games, thus the maximum fine would be $130,000 for this 2010 season.

Stricklin and MSU president Dr. Mark Keenum argued in the May SEC meetings to do away with the original 1975 rule on noisemakers; then agreed to this compromise allowing use at certain points of games. State has made every official effort to educate and encourage fans on the rules, though few expected fans would adhere completely. Since the ‘trigger' for enforcement is up to the league officials' interpretation, as well as influenced by complaints lodged from visiting schools, there is not a defined point of violation.

But State has managed to cross whatever the line may be and will face fines, Stricklin has confirmed. Specifics will come after the season.

Meanwhile, Coach Dan Mullen is being drawn back into this issue that should have been settled. He spoke to students at Newell-Grissom on Tuesday evening about ringing responsibly; and after practice summarized the ‘gameplan' to media. "Just be smart. Every conference has their own rules, the SEC decided and made the rule. It is what it is, that's their right as our conference to make our own rules. Not NCAA rules, our own rules. So we have to try to respect it.

What might puzzle fans, though, is what the Bulldogs themselves think of cowbells. Or, not think. Because as WR Chad Bumphis said, "Honestly, during a game I don't even hear the cowbells." It's true: once the clock starts running and the ball is kicked off, the focus of all this aural attention is actually deaf to the clanging. "Me, I don't hear them," affirmed Bumphis, adding "If you're hearing cowbells during the game then you've got bigger problems than cowbells!"

Yet for MSU officialdom, cowbells have been turned into a problem by outsiders and like it or not the University has to adapt. "I know the cowbell was voted as one of the top traditions in all of college football," said Mullen. "So we have to do a good job of keeping within conference rules they've set up so we can keep one of college football's great traditions. That's what makes college football special, dotting the ‘I' at Ohio State and all the different things you have. Cowbells are one of them, so we have to respect the bell so we can keep that tradition alive."

A tradition, he continued, that runs through generations of fans. "Once you're a Bulldog you're always a Bulldog," Mullen said, adding in a parenthetic sort of way "Most schools don't have free agency in college football; I can't say all but most of them don't. What makes it special is your allegiance to your school."

Further contributing to the week's off-field furor is the Tuesday-announce suspension of LB/ST Chris Hughes for his helmet-area hit on a defenseless UAB player just before halftime. The announcement caught most by complete surprise, as much as the unnecessary and not very sporting hit by Hughes did the Blazer who had let his guard down as the play went to the far sideline. The incident did not draw a flag as the field crew was also watching the action farther away, and the TV camera angles missed it as well.

But a full-field angle showed Hughes, on the other side of the field from the primary action, take a full-speed shot at the Blazer, from behind and above the shoulders. The coaching cameras video appears to have been sent out by UAB, and ultimately being dumped in the SEC Office's administrative lap to address. This also seems to have contributed to a full-game suspension rather than a partial-game penalty.

Hughes, who was playing as a rotation linebacker that game and has been a regular on kicking teams, will be suspended for the Kentucky game. Mississippi State's official release provided statements from Hughes himself and Mullen accepting the punishment.

Hughes had come in at strong-side linebacker as UAB was driving for the tying touchdown that they would eventually score. Now he has to watch the Kentucky game on suspension. "It hurts us more in special teams, Chris got a lot of snaps on special teams," Mullen said. "He's rotating with Emmanuel Gatling and Cameron Lawrence out there. Those guys will be able to fill in for him."

The incident was accidentally ironic, too. During his Sunday teleconference Mullen was asked about the recent examples of helmet tackling in pro and college ball. The question was for a general ‘trend' story and not addressing MSU in particular, since media had no indication of any issue after the UAB game.

Mullen said Sunday that State has been proactive on this issue. "They're making a big emphasis this year so we're making an emphasis on our team. We haven't been called for many but we make an emphasis to coach that. We've had guys miss plays and get dinged up from head shots this year." None that have drawn SEC Office attention, at least so far.

The fact is to Mullen that such contact is almost inevitable given the sort of athletes now playing football. That doesn't mean State won't try to keep Bulldogs on the right tackling track; "We coach our guys to lead with their shoulder, wrap with their arms, and tackle to the ground," Mullen said.

"There's definitely a difference between intent and the speed of the game, it just happens. That's what I pay attention to. We'll discipline our guys if there is an intent; if they're going 100 mph and it ends up being an unavoidable thing, that's unavoidable. But we coach against such things."

Meanwhile, Mississippi State was conducting the usual business of game week with a long Tuesday practice. It began 15 minutes later than planned due to a fast-moving rain shower. "When we walked out there nobody had any faith, everybody was looking at me like I had six heads," Mullen joked. "Within five minutes the sun came out and we were good to go!" And the going turned out "pretty good" too, according to the coach.

"Tuesday is always a tough, physical day for us, and we got a lot of first down, play action stuff in. It was a good day. The defense did pretty good today. This is a tough, high-scoring, explosive offense so we're going to have to play good defense to just contain them. I don't know if you're going to stop them, hopefully you just contain them."

Mullen said TB Vick Ballard and OC J.C. Brignone both were able to go the entire practice.

Gene's Page Top Stories