"We never really get through all twelve because in the game you get off schedule," Mullen said. "You get in the red zone and go to a different script, you can get on third down and go to a different script."
"But really the script is things we want to see early in a game. We'll more or less go through them on Thursday, then walk through them again on Friday." And, put them into operation on gameday. Of course next week, Thursday is Tuesday and Saturday is Thursday and so on and etc.
By the way…why twelve plays? This, admitted Mullen, is a good question. "Thirteen is supposed to be bad luck!" he quipped, before adding he isn't bowing to superstition. It is just the baseline figure that years of offensive experience has ingrained in this coach.
"You look at ten sometimes…but there is always something else we wanted to see. And I think if you go more than twelve you get yourself bogged down in trying to run those plays instead of calling the game. Twelve has just been the number we've always stuck with."
So nobody need confuse Mullen's Dozen Plays with the Ten Commandments. "We're looking to get ourselves in a flow or to find something, see how the defense is going to play us a certain way. So a lot of that is determined in the first play of a game."
Say, since he brought it up…what might MSU see from the 2011 offense on their first snap? Not just of the game but of the entire season?
"It's not Thursday yet! We don't have the Memphis game plan in yet so how could I know!"
Then again this is a coach who knows such things can matter. Take the 2009 team's debut, at home against Jackson State. Talk about trying to make an impression…"That was the first play of my career here as head coach, and I wanted to make sure the fans knew that we were going to be exciting on offense!" The chosen manner was, with MSU starting at their own 48-yard line, quarterback Tyson Lee flipping the ball to freshman wideout Chad Bumphis as he ran through the backfield. A reverse!
That was exciting enough, except then Bumphis—who'd played some high school quarterback—pulled-up and threw deep for O'Neal Wilder. What a way to send a signal about how things were changing. For that matter it was a real change for Mullen himself.
"The only time I thought of the first play of a season was a couple of years ago. It didn't work! If it had worked people would have gone crazy!" Then again MSU fans went wild enough for an incompletion…though whether Mullen might have taken that first-snap tack against an equal opponent can't be known now. Of course, he does recall how at Utah in 2003 he and head coach Urban Meyer tried something similar against Texas A&M.
In fact the play was designated ‘Aggie' for that event. "Nah, it didn't work then," Mullen admitted. He isn't even too annoyed that Bumphis' heave to open '09 misfired, since the now-junior already bugs the boss enough about more opportunities to toss. "If he'd completed that…" As for the second-season around with State, it was a five-yard keeper by quarterback Chris Relf on 2010's first offensive play. "The only reason I know is I watched the Memphis game today!"
So seems safe to say Mullen and coordinator Les Koenning haven't written the Memphis script yet, much less what will be called on first down. "The first play, we'll usually come up with it on Thursday (or in this opener's case, Tuesday) morning." Along with the other proposed eleven options, which will be run through that afternoon and walked-through on Wednesday.
Ideas? Sure, Mullen has some already. "We might do something crazy, like a fullback dive up the middle!" he laughed. "You know how fans are, they'd be ‘boooooooo!, you had eight months to think of that play?!'" Yes, the coach understands what some obsessed fans would say at such a bold opening gambit from a guy getting paid $2.65 million. After all, "I get plays sent to me all the time, from guys who say ‘when I coached youth football twenty years ago'…"
But who knows? Maybe one of those submissions could look promising on paper. And this is a coach who likes to keep counterparts guessing. Maybe. "We're going to throw it deep on the first play…don't tell them!"
Nobody needs tell Memphis, or anyone else for that matter, what Mullen is likely to do if the Bulldog captains win the coin toss. In 2010, State won it nine times and on eight such situations opted to defer and thus kicked off. The lone exception was against Alcorn State, at home. Though, in 2009 when State won the toss five times they deferred on there and took the ball twice, against Georgia Tech and Florida.