Thursday Bulldog Football Notebook

It isn't quite to the point of saying just another week, just another position. Still James Carmon knows all his shuffling up and down the offensive line has a point. "Whatever my team needs to win or make them better that's what I'm going to do."

Which for now means lining up at right guard. Or should we say for last weekend? After all, Coach Dan Mullen and line coach John Hevesy have made it entirely clear that all blocking jobs are evaluated weekly, even daily, and come first offensive snap this Saturday at UAB there could be yet another five-man variation taking their assigned places.

"We're going to see," Mullen said. "We're not set yet, we'll see how practice goes if he stays at guard or goes back to tackle. Throughout the year he's a guy we're going to have to depend on for flexibility."

Still, with installation done and final practice this afternoon, indications are Carmon will be right back at right guard just as he was last Saturday for his first time ever.

"I believe I did OK," Carmon said. "OK. I didn't really have any missed assignments, that was a good thing. I graded out OK. I didn't grade out as good as I did before at left tackle but I graded out pretty well for my first time."

"He played solid, it wasn't spectacular," said Mullen. "But it'd be hard to expect it to be spectacular. He played guard for a grand total of three days coming off the injury. What I'm happiest about is the attitude, stepping into that role ant not being selfish."

Of course a month ago Carmon was being graded on his first-time experience as a senior college tackle. Left tackle, at that. Fans recall, with amusement, how on the very first snap there the converted defensive tackle jumped the snap count. And then did it again on the same series. Carmon settled in nicely after and put in a good game at Memphis, then was getting in a rhythm at Auburn until spraining a knee just before halftime.

After a two-game layoff he was back in the lineup, but now on the other side of center. "I wasn't very happy when I first moved over there," Carmon said. Naturally, since he was just getting settled at a position he hopes to play as a professional. "But Coach was telling me this will up your value, and this is what the team really needs. And that's what I here for, I try to be a team player, so I went and did it for my team."

And did it reasonably well for limited practice and no hands-on experience, as the grading shows. And talk about an experience…

"It came quick," he summarized. "It's quick, it's fast. Guard is way more faster. It's more thinking, too, and it's a waaaay different ball game, too fast. But it's cool."

That's good because the heat is definitely on Mississippi State's offensive front, and the offense in general. The squad hasn't scored a touchdown in the last two conference games and didn't exactly roll over Louisiana Tech in-between. And after two huge rushing outputs in the first two weeks that ground game has been stifled ever since.

The obvious factor are injuries to the blockers. Only one, former RG Tobias Smith, is out for the year, but Carmon's missed time and C/G Quentin Saulsberry's own knee sprain disrupted the whole offense. The first answer was playing two redshirt frosh on the front and making Saulsberry the right guard; now Hevesy has come up with another edition by putting big Carmon there. Goal-one is getting the running attack moving again.

"That's what we try to do the whole week," Carmon said. "That's what Coach was basically saying, we need you go to in there and maul some folks. Me just learning the position it was a little hard. But we try to get the job done, that's what we're going to do day-in and day-out. Whatever we have to do to get better."

As for getting better Carmon agrees having fourth-year regulars like Saulsberry and Addison Lawrence flanking him is helpful. "I'm a quick learner so they didn't talk to me a whole lot. But they did help me on some things, a few things I wanted them to show me." Of course only really playing could show Carmon the greatest change brought by moving a few steps to his right.

Remember, last year at this time Carmon was attacking offensive guards, trying to maul them. The irony isn't lost on him.

"Now I see how hard it is! It's just so quick at guard than left tackle, way more quick. I mean as soon as you get upright somebody is right there in your face." Soooo, does he feel sorry for any of those 2010 blockers he abused? "No! That was my job! But I see how it really is now."

For that matter Carmon has been able now to see how line-life is on both sides of the trench, and at different positions too. Yeah, he admits, there are times he wishes he'd kept the #95 jersey and been taking his rotation turns at defensive tackle.

"I do. I do. I miss hitting people. But it's better for me, it's better for my team. So anywhere they have me at I'm comfortable."

EXERCISING THEIR OPTIONS: As the offense has slowed over three weeks, observers have commented on the coincidental diminishing of option-type plays as well. Or at least that is the perception. Mullen has tried clearing this up with a review of the Georgia play selection.

"We probably called eight option plays Saturday," Mullen said. "I guess if you give it to the dive-back it doesn't look like an option play." Actually it does to veterans of the wishbone/veer era who well recall games where fullbacks got as many or more dive-carries than there were tailback pitches. In the currently popular ‘spread' offense a quarterback keeper between the tackles is practically the same thing. QB Chris Relf is certainly doing a lot of that lately rather than keeping around the corner and pitching.

Besides, defenses seem to prefer making Relf keep and often eat the ball rather than let him get outside and keep or pitch. "But more of it comes from getting in a flow," Mullen said. "I think a lot of it is the number of plays and the situations we've been in

"Last week we give up late touchdown before half, puts us down 21-3. At that point I don't know if we're going to grind it out the rest of the game, we're looking for ways to make some plays." Thus a shift in play-calling for more passing plays, particularly on first downs, that lasted to halftime. Regardless, "We're keeping ourselves out of the flow of the offense at times," Mullen said.

It wasn't hard to see how things un-flowed last week. Mullen recited the number: nine negative-yard plays on offense, along with eight penalties and four turnovers. Nearly one-third of State's offensive snaps went the wrong direction.

"Add in some incomplete passes and you're up around forty percent not moving the ball," Mullen said. "We consider four yards a solid run, run it three times and you get a first downs." For that matter Mullen accepts regular three-yard gains on the ground as 3rd-and-4 is a practical situation to work with. All that matters is making the flow happen, finding the rhythm, and keeping the chains moving. That is the coach's first assignment for this weekend at UAB.

FROM THIS END…: After leading State in both receptions and yardage his first two seasons, WR Chad Bumphis has naturally been a marked man by defenses. Since opening night when he hauled in a 44-yard touchdown at Memphis, the junior has had just eight more grabs for 70 total yards. It isn't nearly what was expected of Bumphis in 2011, or by him for that matter.

"I'm a little disappointed, but not really. I mean just the way the season is going I feel there's more I could have been doing better, the offense could have been doing better. It's just things we have to fix in practice."

Fix fast, too, with the season approaching half-way and State not moving the ball or scoring points as planned. Bumphis' touchdown on opening night was the longest true ‘deep' strike to succeed so far; though the overtime toss to RB LaDarius Perkins only needed 17 yards for a touchdown, he'd have run a lot farther on the open catch if needed.

The point remains that State hasn't made big strides in big strikes here in year-three of the spread system, not even with veterans to throw and catch. But Bumphis does not complain about lack of long throws as much as problems with general efficiency.

"I wouldn't say longer passes, I'd say more touches all around. We have to do better as an offensive unit so we can run some plays. You look at Vick (Ballard) and he's not getting many touches, we just have to put the offense in better situations and spread the ball around."

What the wideout is NOT saying is there've been any play selection complaints. Though he smiled, "You ask a wide receiver and we're always going to say we're open!" What Bumphis understands is how State wants to play offense and why. The frustration now is that the approach which ran—and threw—so well last season isn't functioning smoothly here in 2011.

"We're working the same, we're pretty much running the same plays. I just don't understand what it is. Defenses play us a certain way, they put an extra player in the secondary to the boundary, they just do different things each week. But the coaches put us in a good position, the gameplan is always good. We just have to go out and execute. It is kind of frustrating because you know what we're capable of.

"But I mean we're not far off; if you look at the film it's always one different person every play. We just have to come together as a unit and make things happen. Like I said, we're not far off. I think everybody is frustrated just because we have some high expectations of the offense. Much higher."


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