Both the inspiration, and the financing, for Monday's invasion of the Starkville mega-mart came from the Bulldogs themselves, with a big original assist from the Gator Bowl that is.
"Our guys get gift cards and a group of the guys wanted to volunteer some of that money," Mullen said. "So we kind of split everybody into teams and we're going to load up the bus and go over to Wal-Mart do some shopping today for different children's charities around the state." A MSU official and some local TV reporters were on site to record just how Bulldog players shop and what they figure is a good gift for youngsters. Well, younger-than-they youngsters.
Whatever the carts are loaded with, it was a jolly bunch of Santa Dogs swarming the checkout lanes today. For that matter the entire team was in a good mood leaving the practice field Monday following a two-hour session; their next-to-last workout of campus bowl camp.
"It was good," said Mullen. "It was just putting in the gameplan, getting ready to go." And, the coach added, prepared to play right up to the point of loading the equipment trucks. Per Mullen's schedule they are now at ‘Thursday' with only a helmets-and-sweats session left, essentially a walk-through practice.
"That's how we prep for the bowl, we should be ready to play the game three days from now like we would in a regular game week," Mullen said.
CLEAR THE WAY: Of course the difference this week is when the coach dismisses everyone Tuesday, players will be scattering to the four winds…and leaving quite a tailwind in their wake for that matter. Perhaps the Mississippi Highway Patrol needs to alert motorists about being on the roads anytime after noon tomorrow.
"I told the players they would be in their car on the way home by 12:30," Mullen said. "We'll get in here early and get going early so should be able to get some extra time off."
The Bulldogs will reassemble in Jacksonville on December 26 as required by the Gator Bowl, and have daily practices at the University of North Florida soccer field.
GOOD TO GO: It should be a rested and ready bunch that arrives for Gator Bowl week, especially a number of veterans who had lighter work-loads for the first half of campus camp. While some coaches might worry about the risk of a little rust for front-line players who aren't regularly practicing, Mullen took the approach that these guys had done more than enough over the twelve-game grind.
And, those who are seniors should be in as close to prime condition as possible for the best shot at last-game success.
"When you look at guys like McPhee, K.J., Chris, Sherrod, all of our guys that the wear of the season takes on them they get the opportunity to come out and be real fresh healthy right now and get them going full speed," Mullen said.
Unfortunately one senior, wideout Leon Berry, will not be able to play his college finale at all after the October ankle injury. Two more underclassmen Bulldogs will be sidelined as well. Tight end Marcus Green is rehabbing the knee injured in September so he can hit senior-spring practice at full speed; and wideout Chad Bumphis has to watch practice with a sling on the right arm, after cracking his collarbone in the Egg Bowl victory at Ole Miss.
The Mississippi State offense was able to adapt to the absence of Green and Berry over the season course. But this will be the first game of any sort Bumphis has missed since debuting as a starter in his true freshman 2009 opener. This also takes away MSU's leading receiver and H-slot starter. Bumphis' stats can't be replaced but his position can be filled, per Mullen.
"We've got Brandon Heavens and Ricco Sanders working there. Those are guys that have played for us and been in that position in games so we feel pretty good about those guys stepping up for us and being ready to play."
Heavens is also being booked to fill Bumphis' job on kickoff and punt return, along with freshman tailback LaDarius Perkins. "They have a big role," Mullen said. "The other young guys just have to step up as they have been. When you have to deal with those season-ending injuries to some of your playmakers, other guys get their opportunity to go make something happen."
PLAYING HIS PART(S): If Bumphis' injury had happened earlier in the season, a prime option for his H-position would be the true freshman practicing there. Back in August drills, and again during bowl camp, rookie Jameon Lewis has put on a show as the slot receiver. Come March 2011 he will have much to say about how that position stacks up, or even if guys get moved to make room for the young talent.
But Lewis' freshman fall has not been confined to waiting and watching. He's earned a practice name as a scout team quarterback mimicking ‘wild' backs or triggermen who play that style. So guess who has drawn the duty of representing Michigan's Denard Robinson for the benefit of the Bulldog starting defense?
"He's playing scout team quarterback because it's a similar-style player as Denard is," said Mullen. "You can't simulate his speed, I don't know if we have anybody on our team that's as fast as he is. But he does a pretty good job with the quickness. He gives you a good look and he's pretty athletic. And it's not as if it were something different because he was a high school quarterback he's comfortable doing those things."
‘Comfortable' is not a word coming to immediate Mississippi State mind in relation to Robinson, of course. Monday, Mullen resumed praising the Michigan playmaker for quickness, speed, and just plain elusiveness…all in degrees State simply has not seen from any other quarterback this season.
"Obviously he doesn't have the size to run between the tackles but is a good, physical player," Mullen said. "It makes him dangerous, if he gets in the open field see you later! He's a legit 4.3 forty guy; I know because I timed him in a camp in high school!"
Of course State's Lewis did some pretty impressive things as a prep star himself, and Mullen is eager to put him—and other 2010 redshirts—on the spring practice field to find their fall positions. It's worth wondering, too: as much time as Lewis has had playing scout quarterback could he end up taking some snaps for real?
"Yeah, we'll do some things. We'll have a package for him potentially to play quarterback next year."