In the middle of all this came the selection to the New Years Day meeting with Michigan. The #21 ranked Bulldogs (8-4) and 7-5 Wolverines face off in Jacksonville's EverBank Field.
Now with tests done, and presumably passed since everyone appeared to be participating Friday, Mullen can get players into a routine. A new one in the sense that this is his first time taking a State team to a bowl game, of course…yet Friday bore an intentional resemblance to what everyone was doing way back in early August. Players were in shorts, despite the chilly conditions, and helmet.
"It's kind of like training camp a little bit, first day come out in helmets and then put some pads and build into full pads on Sunday," Mullen said. With, that is, the December advantage that none of this is new for anyone. Still a two-week break does allow for a least a little rust, so…
"After a couple of weeks it's good to just run around, get a sweat on, throw and catch the ball a little bit. Shake loose some of those cobwebs and get their minds back to thinking about it."
With not even 90 minutes of actual drills snaps were somewhat limited compared to a typical practice. Friday was even more so because Mullen let a number of starters do much more watching than participating, particularly in the seven-man segments. Senior offensive linemen LT Derek Sherrod and OC J.C. Brignone, for instance, had very minimal duties; and first tailback Vick Ballard yielded often to LaDarius Perkins with the number one offense. The quarterback rotation did not change; and underclassmen linemen took all the usual turns.
"This week from now until Thursday is a lot about development with some of our older guys," Mullen said, "but when we go to team periods I want to see some of these young offensive linemen get in there and have to step up and start getting ready to play."
That included an interesting addition to the o-line roster today, as second-team defensive tackle James Carmon—still wearing #95—lined up on offense for the first time since coming to campus last spring. And, he lined up in Sherrod's spot at that, with the second unit.
"It's an experiment," Mullen said. "We have an all-American graduating at left tackle, right now there's some true freshmen looking at it behind him. So it's something we want to look at for the next couple of days. James will be playing d-tackle for the bowl game." Spring, now, will be another matter. Redshirt Blaine Clausell was the sub first-team left tackle Friday rounding out a #1 line of LG Gabe Jackson, OC Quentin Saulsberry, RG Tobias Smith, and RT Addison Lawrence.
The second line was LT Carmon, LG Templeton Hardy, OC Sam Watts, RG Dillon Day, RT Eric Lawson.
There were no new wide receivers Friday, but any would probably be welcome for this injury-limited unit. H-man Chad Bumphis could only watch, right arm in a sling after cracking the collarbone making his 44-yard catch in the Egg Bowl. He won't be able to play in the Gator Bowl. Mullen said WR Leon Berry, out since the Alcorn State game with a broken ankle, won't be practicing here on campus but "we have not ruled him out of the bowl game entirely." Still this is a short-handed squad, not to mention youthful.
"We have a couple of young guys that are going to get a lot of reps this week, and this is their opportunity to step up," Mullen said. In passing work today, mostly hurry-up and two-minute situations, the first receiver rotation was Chris Smith, Brandon Heavens, and Arceto Clark; the second group Ricco Sanders, Michael Carr, and redshirting freshman Robert Johnson; the third Sam Williams and two more redshirts, Malcolm Johnson and Jameon Lewis.
Defensive back Maurice Langston has had a little wideout work this fall but for now will stay on that side, Mullen figures. "For the game we'll have to see, as it gets going closer to the bowl game we'll figure out the gameplan. We have time and we still have some depth; Sam Williams will be healthy and Michael Carr has a year under his belt, so we should be OK depth wise."
There's no lack of depth in the defensive secondary already, but there were some different looks at times Friday. "We moved a couple of corners over to safety, to try some things and see what's going on," Mullen said. Of course he's seen what CB John Banks can do at safety already since the '10 soph played there as a true freshman. CB Louis Watson also took safety snaps today.
"We're moving guys around just to get some experience," Mullen said.
Speaking of moving, the Bulldogs expect to change practice venues on the second day with rain forecast. As of now the early afternoon session will be in Palmeiro Center, a place Mullen has managed to avoid using in all but extreme circumstances these two seasons. So is the coach getting soft on a squad that has earned a bowl trip? Naaah…
"We're not going to be silly out here, so far from the game. We'll get used to playing back outside. But cold is not going to put us inside, just rain or bad weather. We want to have a good practice day."
If cold is going to move anything Sunday looks like a good opportunity with a 6:00 evening practice scheduled. The first week's worth of bowl practices are open to public and media alike, up through Thursday when the Bulldogs will scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium.
STILL ON THE JOB: Amidst the rest of his activities the past two weeks, Mullen has been dealing with—or more usually fending off—queries about his involvement, or not, with a couple of open jobs in the Sunshine State. Within two days of the Egg Bowl win he was being asked about the vacancy at Miami; that faded fast into the background this week with the resignation of his long-time boss Urban Meyer at Florida.
Mullen has responded on-record to questions just a few times, such as during the Sunday bowl-bid teleconference and then against Thursday at a Jacksonville bowl press conference. He insists the only administrator he has spoken to in this period is MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin. That is not going to stop questions of course, though media were requested not to ask Bulldog players about their head coach's status.
When the subject was broached after today's practice, "I don't worry about it," Mullen said. "I mean, I don't live in a speculation world, I live in the real world. That's all we deal with."
MOVING ON: Bowl season is barely underway and Mullen has some new staff business to attend to before spring ball. Passing game coordinator/receiver coach Mark Hudspeth will be named head coach of Louisiana-Lafayette on Monday. Hudspeth was seen in the Bryan Building today but did not come to practice, nor is he expected to the rest of bowl prep period.
This year the Bulldogs improved their yards-per-catch average from 11.3 to 14.3, and yards-per-throw from 6.5 to 8.1 yards. Passing touchdowns went from nine in 2009 to 15 this past season. Hudspeth helped to develop a collection of new receivers over two seasons, led by Bumphis with 32 catches and 375 yards as a freshman and 44 catches and 534 yards as a sophomore. In fact nine of his ten scholarship receivers were first- or second-year players.
This is Hudspeth's second college head coaching post, having spent seven years in charge at North Alabama with a 66-21 record, two Gulf South Conference titles and five NCAA Division II playoff appearances. He has also been a high school head coach at Winston Academy in Louisville, Miss. Hudspeth, 42, has coached in Louisiana before, serving as wideouts and tight ends coach at Nicholls State 1994-95.
He is the third assistant to leave Mullen's staff. Last year defensive coordinator Carl Torbush and defensive line coach David Turner left for similar posts at Kansas and Kentucky, respectively. Mullen replaced them in January with Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson.
INJURY UPDATE: As noted, Bumphis will have to miss his first chance to play in a post-season bowl game with a broken collarbone suffered in the second quarter of the Egg Bowl victory. Berry has not practiced since his injury in the Alcorn State game. TE Marcus Green (knee) is also out.
Mullen said FB William Shumpert is not likely to be part of the bowl picture either. Shumpert redshirted in 2009, and missed 2010 after pre-season back surgery. "He can start to do some things but that's not something we need to mess around with in the long-term picture for him. I want him 100% before he gets out because it'd only be for a couple of practices."
DT Josh Jackson was going through drills with the rest of the defensive linemen.