"It's different, but similar to the play we ran in a similar situation a couple of years ago. It wasn't as clear-cut (this time), I think he made the right read on the play from my vantage point. I figured they would review it, just to make sure. It looked like he made the right decision."
None in Mississippi State's locker room second-guessed their quarterback's call, either. "Definitely Chris wanted to run it," RT Addison Lawrence said. "We all have faith in Chris, he's been our workhorse for the last two years. Why not give it to that guy?"
There was an alternative of sorts, Mullen said, but not at the line of scrimmage. "It wasn't a check play, you could pass. Call a pass play and you probably have two plays, run play and you have one. So you can go pass-pass, pass-run, or just run. I got the team together, Chris said he felt great about the run call, we looked like we had it. And the kid (Smith) made a heck of an open-field tackle. We missed a lot of those tackles, their kid made it."
For Lawrence, it was a bitter reprise. "Yeah, it's just like LSU. I felt like that again. Going through two games like that, it takes years off my life I feel like." And as to questions of perhaps Mullen showing a tendency—each of those tries went left—Lawrence said yeah, he wouldn't mind the right side getting a shot. If it set up that way.
"But we'd ran it to the left well (during the drive) and in the type of goal-line defense they were in that was the better call."
ON FURTHER REVIEW: Mullen and MSU stayed on field long enough to watch the jumbotron replay, which only showed once official review upheld the call that Relf was down short and there was no fumble recovered in the end zone.
"I imagine they got it right, there is a guy right there in position," Mullen said. Though, he wondered what game-tape might show in such situations when nobody has a clear look. A suggession? "Microchips in the tips of balls to see if it actually registered," Mullen pondered. "I'm sure one day we'll have that technology!"
Earlier in the final half the coach was not nearly so philosophical about another official decision. With 4th-and-short on the Bulldog 31, Auburn's Michael Dyer took a direct snap directly into the line of scrimmage. The measurement gave a first down despite powerful dog protests.
S Charles Mitchell was adamant. "I was on the side and it was definitely daylight," he said. He had more reason for frustration three plays later when he intercepted a meaningless Tiger pass because DT Cox had been charged with jumping offsides (thought it looked as if a linebacker was more guilty). Auburn kept possession and scored their final touchdown, which proved the winning margin too.
"It was real close. They gave it to them and we had to play D, and that was that. They didn't get it, but they gave it to them," Mitchell said. But, he added manfully, "And they gave us some plays they shouldn't of. You have to keep playing the game and the next snap."
"The players came off and said it was short but I don't know how they look at that," Mullen said, diplomatically. "Obviously we're going to think they didn't make it and they're going to think they did make it. I don't think that is an issue, that's the game inches. That's a great example right there. They found a way to get that one-eighth of a final inch and they stopped us on that one call.
"Our kids said it looked like it wasn't there, but they're looking at parts of the pole and there are different parts of the pole! We've got the best officials in the country and a guy is standing about that far away from it. So I trust they know what they're doing!"
Besides, Mitchell added, when Mr. Ref says so "Ain't nothing you can say to change it!" SECRET WEAPON? A week ago Blaine Clausell was under unspecified suspension, and missed his chance at first collegiate action as a result in State's rout of Memphis. The redshirt freshman was back on the roster this week, and finally got in a game. But not under ideal circumstances.
On the field goal drive before halftime, LT James Carmon went down badly on a sack of QB Chris Relf and stayed down. He was carted off for examination, and watched the second half on crutches with a heavy sleeve-cast on his left leg. Mullen did not know Carmon's condition immediately after the game.
Meanwhile Clausell, the backup, made his debut in a dramatic—and embarrassing manner. Relf rolled right, then looked to throw-back. Under pressure he dumped the ball right into the shocked tackle's hands. Clausell even caught the ball on his very first college play. Of course it was illegal but Auburn declined the penalty. Relf came back for a 20-yard throw to Brandon Heavens, compounded by a late hit on the passer.
Auburn unabashedly attacked the green tackle the rest of the day, though by the last half of the last quarter Clausell was holding his own. More impressive under such replacement pressure was how sub-center Dillon Day, also a redshirt frosh, handled taking over when OC Quentin Saulsberry went down as well. Day delivered the ball nicely every snap to Relf, and helped open the middle for TB Vick Ballard's repeated middle-runs en route to the touchdown.
"Dillon takes reps with the ones all during the week, all during camp," RT Addison Lawrence said. "We were comfortable with him being in there."
"You had two redshirt freshmen in the last drive of the game," Mullen said. "And they stepped up, I was pretty pleased. We had not one snap issue, I didn't see one issue with either guy." Not that the coach is unconcerned with two starting blockers hurting and LSU on the horizon. "That's where we needed to stay healthy."
OBVIOUS WEAPON: For the last two snaps of State's all-or-nothing drive, DT Fletcher Cox got to take offensive snaps. Cox also missed the Memphis game with unspecified suspension. Lined up to the left side as an extra tight end/fullback, each play went in his direction and Cox successfully negated his first target on the final play as Relf cut in behind him. But all the blocking was out to the side by then and nobody was positioned to take out charging safety Ryan Smith who made the game-saving stop.
Cox had three tackles and 1.5 for losses in his first action of the junior season.
TRY AGAIN: Mississippi State lost its SEC season opener for the twelfth straight year. The last successful debut in league play was in 1999, against South Carolina.
BIG DAY: Junior LB Cameron Lawrence posted a career game with 14 total tackles, with 3.5 stops for loses and State's only sack.
HIS TURN: CB Johnthan Banks recorded his third pick-six as a Bulldog with a 27-yard interception return in the first quarter. It was his eighth career interception, one behind teammate CB Corey Broomfield.
And now both corners have three pick-sixes. "So he's caught me!" Broomfield said.
WHO PLAYED: (*starter, GP-GS) *WR Chad Bumphis 2-2, RB Robert Elliott 2-0, WR Brandon Heavens 2-0, *S Charles Mitchell 2-2, *S Nickoe Whitley 2-1, ST Dylan Favre 1-0, S Wade Bonner 2-1, *WR Chris Smith 2-1, LB Brandon Maye 2-0, *LB Cam Lawrence 2-2, WR Ricco Sanders 1-0, *S Johnthan Banks 2-2, *QB Chris Relf 2-2, WR/ST Jameon Lewis 2-0, WR Brandon Hill 2-0, *WR Arceto Clark 2-2, St. Louis Watson 2-0, *LB Matt Wells 2-2, FB Sylvester Hemphill 2-0, ST Jamerson Love 2-0, *CB Corey Broomfield 2-2, CB Damein Anderson 2-0, RB LaDarius Perkins 2-0, *RB Vick Ballard 2-2, ST Jay Hughes 2-0, WR Sam Williams 2-1, *TE Marcus Green 2-2, LB Jamie Jones 2-0, FB Adrian Marcus 2-0, ST Dee Arrington 2-0, P Baker Swedenburg 2-2, K Derek DePasquale 2-2, ST Marvin Bure 2-0, ST William Shumpert 2-0, ST Christian Holmes 2-0, ST Darius Slay 2-0, LB Deonte Skinner 2-0, LB Ferlando Bohanna 2-0, KO Brian Egan 2-2, DE Trevor Stigers 2-0, *C Quentin Saulsberry 2-2, *LB Brandon Wilson 2-2, DT Devin Jones 2-1, *OG Gabe Jackson 2-2, *OT Addison Lawrence 2-2, ST Dillon Day 2-0, OL/ST Ben Beckwith 2-0, *OG Tobias Smith 2-2, OC Sam Watts 2-0, OT Blaine Clausell 1-0, *OT James Carmon 2-2, ST Damien Robinson 2-0, SN Reed Gordon 2-2, WR Michael Carr 2-0, *DT Kaleb Eulls 2-2, DT P.J. Jones 2-0, *DT Fletcher Cox 1-1, DE Shane McCardell 2-0, *DT Josh Boyd 2-2, *DE Sean Ferguson 2-2.
WHO DIDN'T: Players dressed for the road game but not participating were QB Tyler Russell 1-0, RB Nick Griffin 0-0, DE Corvell Harrison-Gay 1-0, OT Archie Muniz 1-0, DS Winston Chapman 0-0, DL Dewayne Cherrington 1-0, OG Joey Trapp 0-0, WR Malcolm Johnson 0-0, WR Robert Johnson 1-0, DT Curtis Virges 1-0.
*New starters for week-two were: WR Chris Smith, DT Fletcher Cox.
*Game-one starters who did not start this week were: WR Sam Williams, DT Devin Jones.
*First-time players were ST Dylan Favre, OT Blaine Clausell.