Offense Pushed To Improve Execution In Camp

Just in case anyone hoped the head coach was only talking tough to get the guys' attention…nope. Offensive coordinator Les Koenning affirmed Dan Mullen's evaluation of Monday morning. "It wasn't very good. We didn't execute, and if we executed there was always one person doing something wrong. Nobody was ever in synch."

Whether things got fixed in the evening session, the last of Mississippi State's two-a-day dates for this preseason, won't be known until later Tuesday. That's when Mullen will meet with media to go over both today's single session and how his Bulldogs responded to an undisguised challenge after the discombobulated Monday morning. By then the boss should also have set the schedule for the rest of this week, what with the school semester beginning tomorrow.

Tuesday also marks the final practice to be held at the temporary South Farm facility.

This means another checkmark on the August calendar that reminds: opening night is now just over two weeks away. And if the Bulldogs in general, and offense in particular, are to put on the great opening act expected of a top-twenty team, Koenning and staff have lots left to prepare and polish.

Or, as Koenning made clear, to just accept the stresses and stick to the schedule. Simply surviving two-a-days by no means is a signal to dial back on training camp.

"It's football. Who isn't tired?" Koenning reminded. "We're going to be tired in a game, we can't use that as an excuse. When they start failing to do that now that's not good, you got to suck it up and go now. This is a big boy league!"

What the offensive staff has hopes for is their veterans remember how the sucked up the 2010 challenge and played like big boys. Or big Dogs. With, depending on backfield lineup, either eight or nine starters back from the unit that rewrote a stack of season records last fall. Such as, total yards, total snaps (which makes sense) and first downs (ditto). No surprise then the '10 team took advantage of playing 13 games, something only done twice before by State, to score a record 377 points.

So the system is certainly set for success. Thing is, "Winning is not a rite of passage," reminds Koenning. "That was last year's team, this is this year's team. And we need to pick it up."

Yet for several days this preseason it seemed the '11 offense had picked right up where last year's left off. There were times in public practicing the offense was making all sorts of plays all over the field, even after contact work began. In fact these glowing reports had some fans even worried the Dog defense was falling short.

Well, things have taken a hard turn in the other direction the last two practice days. "It's the same plays," Koenning said. "It was a lack of mental focus in my opinion. You've got to actually go out there and play. We had one guy doing something wrong every play and you just can't have it. It doesn't go into age or anything like that."

Which is another way of the coordinator saying neither age nor status now guarantees anyone their first-team or rotation status. Last year is indeed history and after a couple of less-than-acceptable practices everybody from three-letters seniors to raw rookies are under the same MSU microscope.

"As soon as we find somebody that can do it, we'll go grade the film and we'll put that guy up there," Koenning said. "We want to win, and I think our kids understand that too."

Besides coordinating the overall offense, Koenning is also in charge of the quarterbacks. It would seem this would be his easiest preseason with this group since for the first time there is a returning and proven winner under center. Maybe that was why Koenning was as frustrated yesterday as was his boss, because Chris Relf didn't practice like an all-SEC candidate for a change.

"Chris at times was good, and other times he wasn't. Inconsistencies will get you hurt." Still the coach didn't make it seem Relf's starting status is in any danger…though for camp as a whole the backup battle has been encouraging too as Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre match play for play.

"I think they've pushed a bunch. Tyler two days ago had a really good day, really high completions and really did a nice job. Today he forced some things he shouldn't, I told him that point-blank. Dylan made some plays, and I'll watch the film and see what happened. He ran around and made some plays. I haven't seen much separation in either one, it's been up and down."

Ideally this offense isn't about scrambling around, it is about executing calls made on the sideline and adjusted prior to snap. Relf made marvelous gains in that regard as 2010 played along, so naturally he is asked—expected—to do more and better this senior season. SEC quarterbacks can't stand pat on past peformances.

"And we've got a lot in," Koenning said. "That's not an excuse either, don't misunderstand me. It's not like we're splitting atoms out there, we're calling football plays."

A whole lot of plays will get called Friday at what Mullen plans—hopes—will be the one major scrimmage of this preseason. He's even dangled the prospect of a weekend-off if the game-type session goes well…or a Saturday pre-dawn practice otherwise. The head coach is talking to the entire team in that regard.

The offensive coordinator meanwhile has his own unit criteria for Friday. "Execution. Just execute the play."

"In a game opportunities come and you have to take advantage of those. You can't put a kid in those situations until you scrimmage, or you go live and really find out what they can and can't do. The film doesn't lie. We've got to get better at executing."

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