Mullen Lets Bulldogs Have Some Scrimmage Fun

It was billed as a scrimmage, and indeed the action was game-type in most aspects. But for Dan Mullen the Thursday evening session at Scott Field was, well, something not really routine. "It was fun," said the coach after the Bulldogs completed about an hour's worth of controlled competition.

That timing itself was a change since the advance schedule forecast up to two hours of action on Mississippi State's home field. But then Mullen and staff were operating off their own script, which the head coach later explained called for each of the split-roster squads to run forty offensive snaps. "I think one team had 43 plays and the other team had 38," he said.

Those respective teams were interesting lineups as well. A sizable segment of starters did not have to do any on-field duty Thursday, which has been the approach up to now. Among those not seeing a single scrimmage snap were quarterback Chris Relf, offensive linemen Derek Sherrod, J.C. Brignone, and Quentin Saulsberry; wide receiver Brandon Heavens; tailback Vick Ballard and fullback Pat Hanrahan; and others. Defensively, none of the three senior linebackers smudged their uniforms, nor did the starting front four or most of the defensive backfield.

This did not mean all of these Dogs had the whole evening off exactly. The coaching staff actually had several serving as ‘coaches' of the teams and calling both offensive and defensive sets. It was easy to see which side came out best, too, as both offenses piled up yards and numbers at the expense of the backup and reserve defensive units. Or as Mullen joked, it was the ‘Relf Coast Offense' in action whether run by Tyler Russell or Dylan Favre on the respective Maroon and White teams.

Middle LB Chris White called plays for the White defense, and weak-side partner K.J. Wright for the Maroons. From that perspective White came out the winning coach, sort of. The White offense directed by Favre produced five touchdowns; the Maroons under Russell's control just two. There were no kicking plays of any sort, speeding-up the action further.

No official stats were kept either, so all listed numbers to follow were the writer's observation. And those are also incomplete as on one series a numberless back had carries for gains. Which said much about just how series Mullen regarded the scrimmage in terms of getting the participants ready for a game.

But as the head coach says in the following interview, things do get serious starting Friday as Mississippi State transitions from a training camp approach to true Gator Bowl practicing.

In the scrimmage Russell got first turn and it was a fast one, a three-play drive with throws to freshman WR Malcolm Johnson for 20 and 29 yards; the latter a touchdown. Favre's initial series required seven plays before scoring, though he got 35 of the 60 yards needed on a first-down catch and run by WR Sam Williams. On 4th-and-goal at the one Favre did the touchdown honors.

On his second series Russell drove the Maroons to the two-yard line, having converted 4th-and-6 with a 13-yard throw to TE Kendrick Cook. But on second down at the two, motion at the line of scrimmage moved the ball back five yards. On third down Russell had to keep, was stripped in a pileup with DT Jeff Howie not only recovering but running it back out to the 48-yard line.

From there it took 11 plays for the Whites to score. On 4th-and-3 at the 36, TE Brandon Hill caught a Favre throw for eight yards. Pass interference in the end zone meant free first down at the 15 though Favre was sacked by DE Corvell Harrison-Gay on second down. He came right back with a 16-yard strike to WR Jameon Lewis open in the end zone.

Russell's series lasted four plays with CB Maurice Langston breaking up a 4th-and-11 throw. The Whites responded with a eight-play drive of 60 yards with TB Adrian Marcus getting 23 of that on a run and a catch. Favre was incomplete on 3rd-and-4 at the 12-yard line, only to come back on fourth down with a scamper up the middle for the touchdown.

Now down a couple of touchdowns the Maroons tried to come back, with TB Robert Elliott breaking left containment for a 32-yard run down to the three-yard line. Two snaps later he dove across to end the ten-play drive. But the Whites answered with a five-snap series; the first two producing catches of 15 and 20 yards by Lewis. Favre called his own number at the 22-yard line and did a pylon-vault for touchdown.

Any chance for the Maroons to catch up ended as reserve QB Brantley Adams was intercepted on first down by S Louis Watson with a 32-yard return. Starting just 20 yards out, it took four plays for Favre to finish with a seven-yard throw to Hill for touchdown. Adams did get his other series moving with a 17-yard throw to TE Kenneth Baldridge but on 4th-and-11 a the 26 his throw was batted away. Favre didn't get to pad the final margin either as after catching the ball WR Robert Johnson fumbled with CB Asian Ruff recovering on the last play of the scrimmage.

Unofficially, Russell was 9-of-16 passing for 105 yards and one touchdown. Favre got to play more series and was 15-of-20 for 181 yards with a pair of touchdown throws; more entertainingly he ran six times for 41 yards and two more scores. The bulk of the backfield work fell to Elliott with seven rushes for 59 yards and the one touchdown; and Nick Griffin with 11 runs for 45 yards.

Malcolm Johnson began best among the receivers with four catches and 63 yards including one touchdown; but Lewis came on strongest with six total grabs and 77 yards with one score. Michael Carr and Hill each had two receptions…all unofficially of course.

Afterwards Mullen discussed both the scrimmage and the change in practice approach to begin tomorrow as Mississippi State starts thinking about the New Years Day date with Michigan in the Gator Bowl.

Q: What did you think of the scrimmage? "It was good, I was pleased. Yesterday we were kind of sloppy, made some mistakes. But we came out here in the stadium and guys made some plays. There's some guys that made some plays that you're not going to get away with if we're in a SEC game out here! Yeah, Favre can be one! But it's good to see some guys come out here and in a live situation run the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball; guys blocked , guys tackled. It was good to see that stuff in a live situation. And it was fun for some of our other guys that don't get many reps come in the stadium and get to play."

Q: What do you think about Favre's play? "Well, it's good, I don't think he'd get away with that stuff if it was a SEC game right now. But that's stuff he's going to have to learn and develop. He's a playmaker, you can see his excitement, and he loves to play the game. And that's really important."

Q: You had some young receivers getting the ball? "That was part of it because they're out there, you know. I mean, now you have to go up and make catches, you have to run after the catch, and get hit live. And the running backs, like Nick Griffin, to get him to do those things is the big thing. And you have to protect the ball if you're going to play."

Q: A few seemed to struggle with routes. How did Michael Carr do? "Not bad. He's still developing, you know, still developing as a young player. He's been forced into action just because we don't have much depth at wide receiver. Hopefully after this recruiting class we've got receivers that we're up to par with. But right now that's a spot that's still developing."

Q: What were the roles of some older guys today? "I think some of them were coaching, calling defenses…"

Q: So that's why the offense was just rolling? "…Yeah, that's what it was! And Chris Relf was calling the Relf Coast Offense! Just having fun."

"And for us the whole focus changes tomorrow. We come in and it's scouting report. We haven't done a scouting report, we've just kind of worked on our skills and our development. Now tomorrow we start the scouting report and we go into game week. a full game week before we leave for our Christmas vacation."

Q: What will the routine be like starting tomorrow? "It's a regular Monday or Sunday practice, then we go do a Tuesday, Wednesday, a bonus day Thursday; the last day before we leave will be our Thursday practice so we're ready to go kick it off as if the game was two days later. To kind of put the whole game week in and get our routine ready. And we'll repeat that schedule once we get down to Jacksonville."

Q: How much has it helped guys like Relf or Derek Sherrod and others that were beat-up to get so much rest? "Well, now we're in game week so this is where we need them. Hopefully they're a lot fresher. They've been through a long season. You come and go through a SEC season schedule, and the schedule we went through this year, you're pretty beat-up. So hopefully it game them the chance to rest their bodies; now they're ready to get back in game routine."

Q: What did you see out of Tyler Russell you liked? "We didn't do much with Tyler today. I mean, he did a nice job getting the ball out of his hands. He could have got it out a couple of times a little bit quicker but we really limited what Tyler was doing. We didn't ask him to do too much today."

Q: How much further ahead are the guys getting these practices going into spring? "Well, it's huge. Because you're looking at we start, when, the first week of March spring ball this year. We're two-and-a-half months out, so you're hoping that it's building a foundation for them to go into this off-season and go into spring ball that they're not a blank page on day one. That the two-deep guys are ready to start rolling, not just you're older guys." Q: Who will wear #36 in the bowl game? "We haven't talked about it. It's so far off to the bowl game, the leadership committee and I haven't met to talk about that."

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