"He can swing as an older player," Mullen said, though the coach came back with a qualification as well. "It's hard because he's a first-year player." Both angles are accurate; the senior has only been an offensive lineman for two games—actually, six quarters at the senior college level, and none when he was playing juco ball.
If Carmon was a little more experienced at blocking, anywhere, then State could be more comfortable with his knowledge of blocking combinations and what the guard does differently. Comfortable or not, Carmon got a first look at guard-ing in Sunday's session and has basically Tuesday and Wednesday practices (the Bulldogs are off today) to learn another position. In time to face a SEC defense, no less.
Carmon isn't the only Bulldog blocker being measured for potential moving this week as State figures how to offset the loss of RG Tobias Smith. Since the junior was sidelined for the season with a knee, former OC Quentin Saulsberry—coping with his own sore knee—has played almost eight-straight quarters at guard with freshman Dillon Day at center. "Obviously Quentin can go everywhere across the line," Mullen said. "Gabe Jackson can move a little bit. You try not to move the freshmen too much." Though, two-game LT Blaine Clausell has also been measured for other, interior duties as well.
Mullen is not exaggerating about the ‘best five' approach, regardless of position. "We have to have everybody ready everywhere. When you start taking numbers away your depth chart diminishes. You look where our depth chart is, we joke with him that the guy in the orange shirt (G.A. D.J. Looney) on the sideline signaling in plays is supposed to be the backup center this year.
"So you're down your starting guard, your backup center, the numbers start getting thinner and thinner as you go with injuries."
Thin numbers, frequent changes, and more have taken an inevitable toll on Bulldog blocking and thus the entire offense's execution. Mullen gave the Louisiana Tech game a mixed review today. "This week was probably our worst performance on the offensive line as a whole. Not that we graded poorly, this was the first week none of them graded a champion. Now they were all right near the edge but first week none of them graded out. So that was as a whole our worst game."
Not for lack of ability on the line, though. Mullen can't do much to avoid injuries, and while experience is the best teacher there is a price to pay. It is natural too that redshirt frosh Day and Clausell are just thinking too much after being handed the unexpected responsibility this soon and suddenly. No wonder Mullen said they were "off a step" at times so far, and in this game a single missed step aborts the entire play.
"So it's getting that timing down and consistent timing down. The young guys have a lot going on in their mind and sometimes they're a step slower." Again, experience will speed that. But as for developing five-part harmony, well, the first task is settling on the five parts.
"But we can do that," Mullen said. "Really when we get into practice tomorrow we'll play with a couple of different combinations, then the end of the week decide our starting combination. But its flexible."
PILING THEM UP: Brandon Wilson was as surprised as anyone, maybe more, when he saw the Saturday stat sheet. A 18-tackle night would surprise anyone of course, though somewhere along the way Wilson lost count.
"No, I was just out there flying around and having fun. And just trying to make every play." Which the middle linebacker darn nearly did, as he had as many stops as the next-two top Dogs combined. Fellow LB Cameron Lawrence had nine tackles as did CB Johnthan Banks.
Wilson's 18 total tackles, as many as the next-two Dogs combined that night, were not just a career high for him and season high at Mississippi State. It was the highest credited total for a Bulldog since Titus Brown racked up 18 stops as well in 2004 against Arkansas.
For that matter Wilson collected more tackles in one game than the previous three this senior season. He came in with 14. It helped that Wilson was back in the starting lineup for game-four, after Brandon Maye opened at MLB for the LSU game. Maye came out of it with a concussion and missed the Louisiana Tech contest.
Wilson was more than up to the opportunity, though he doesn't claim any extraordinary effort. "It was just me and the defense going out there, playing. We always go out there to compete, and that's what I was doing.
"The d-line did a tremendous job up front keeping a lot of guys off me, so I was basically more free running. I put it those guys' hands, they made it all happen." Plus, Wilson got even more opportunities than usual given Tech's gameplan. When not throwing the ball, the visiting Bulldogs typically ran big back Lennon Creer between the tackles…and right in Wilson's direction.
Just as he expected, Wilson said. "The whole thing was stop the run, and I think we did that OK. We're going to have to continue to pick it up going to Georgia with Crowell up there running the ball."
Crowell being Isaiah, the outstanding freshman runner averaging 102.8 rushing yards after his first four college games. Crowell has four touchdowns already and nets over five yards each attempt, and this week is tied for 5th in SEC rushing. Just 1.0 yards per game ahead of MSU Bulldog Vick Ballard, in fact.
While Creer was an inside force, Crowell can power through traffic or burn around the end with equal ease. Nothing all that fancy, just efficient use of excellent personnel and a serious challenge for Bulldog defenders.
"Exactly," Wilson said. "Our perimeter game is going to have to be tight, we're going to have to set the edges and let the ‘backers run. Definitely get push with the defensive line which I know we'll be able to with Fletcher and Josh in the middle." And may the best Dogs win. A year ago it was State coming out ahead 24-12, and Wilson expects Georgia very much wants to even the score before this two-season series rotates off both schedules.
"So we just have to go tackle it," he said, no pun intended. "It's going to be a fun atmosphere going and playing at Georgia."
Wilson was the only Bulldog player available for Monday interviews, coming by Bryan Building on an off-day for the team. Their first real free Monday of the season so far in fact. A pair of Thursday games, around a SEC road trip, has kept everybody checking the daily schedules so far.
Now, "We get back in a regular schedule," Mullen said. "This is really our first traditional game week that we've had so far this season. So it will get you started on a routine that we'll follow for the rest of the year."
INJURY UPDATE: Mullen seems to be leaving Maye in the ‘questionable' category for Georgia as of today. "We'll see this week. We expect him to play this week, but you never know."
Game-day buzz about a knee problem for #2 QB Tyler Russell was born out by the sleeve-brace worn on one leg, and how he warmed-up with the third center in pregame drills. Mullen downplayed perceptions today though. "No, he was fine to play."
So now is TB Nick Griffin. Back in April when the redshirt freshman had a knee injury requiring surgery, Mullen reported an October target date for getting Griffin his first college action. Turns out the coach wanted to play Griffin on the last Saturday of September, but the game was just too tense to gamble on breaking in this or other rookies.
Which was also why State did not call on Russell in relief, or give redshirted QB Dylan Favre his own first shot under center. Mullen could not take the ball away from Relf under the circumstances.
"You're always thinking what is your best opportunity to win the football game. As that game went on, there were a lot of guys I wanted to get in that game. Nick Griffin, there's a bunch of guys that you'd like to get them in, but you're also very cautious to make sure we're putting ourselves in the best position to win. And sometimes there's timing with that.
"So I mean we felt the whole way Relf was going to be our best chance to win the game."
SHINING UNHAPPY PEOPLE (in honor of Athens-born band R.E.M. as they break up): Mullen admitted that yes, he'd heard boos from the home crowd during Saturday's struggles. Whatever they felt at the time, no fan was more dissatisfied with how that game was playing out than the coach. Mullen admitted his own sideline language was probably harsher than even the unhappiest customer.
Yet the coach doesn't take offense at such public displeasure. On the contrary, "It's good that our fans have high expectations for us. They want to win football games, too. And we did."