Mullen Enjoys Quarterback Guessing Game

It's the question Dan Mullen has heard since about 3:30 Saturday. And he was no closer to clueing anyone in today about this week's starting quarterback, either. In fact, "Before the game we might not put anybody on the jumbotron, we might put all three of them on the jumbotron. I might go wildcat the first play, that way none of them started! Everyone will all flip out I guess!"

As serious as the subject is in Mississippi State minds this week, the head coach is finding some fun in all the fuss about naming a number-one for the upcoming contest with South Carolina (11:21am). This continued in Tuesday's post-practice press meeting where—naturally—the queries circled again round who is running first team. Chris Relf? Tyler Russell? Or for that matter is #3 Dylan Favre really edging into the picture as well?

With two full practice days left the decision quite likely hasn't been made. Nor, Mullen made clear, will he be rushed into it anyway. 11:22am could well be the deadline in fact as much as in theory after all.

"I might tell them after we get the ball (whistles) ‘get in and go! Do your job'," Mullen said. "So we make sure they're ready to go play. Your job is to get ready to go on the field and play as hard as you can go, and when I tell you to come off the field you run off the field as hard as you can go."

In that the coach is being completely serious. Not to mention completely in keeping with how he has been practicing these three quarterbacks since spring football. Or for that matter his triggermen of 2010 and 2009 as well. Certainly the first season the starter stayed constant all season but the implied chance for change was always there. And of course in September '10 Mullen scripted series to alternate first-year starter Relf with Russell.

Thus this is nothing at all new. Mullen certainly likes how everyone involved has responded so far this season.

"There's no one shy about stepping in the first team huddle because they've all done that through spring and training camp and even throughout the fall. They take reps so they'll be ready to play in a game. It doesn't really affect the team because they're used to it as well."

This has only become an outside issue based on recent offensive struggles under senior Relf's management, while Russell was sidelined a couple of games with a gimpy knee. When Russell returned, and made a big splash doing so in State's second half surge at UAB, the quarterback controversy was on. Or, was it?

Mullen doesn't think so and his opinion is the only one which counts. Practice efforts this week have only reinforced the coach's view that he doesn't have controversy, just candidates in a productive tight race making everyone better in the process. As last Saturday showed, Mullen said.

"Give Tyler a lot of credit, he acted the right way, he was prepared to go in the game. A lot of times backups are sitting there saying I'm not going to get a chance so why should I prepare that had? You can see how he's prepared, ready to go play. I think Dylan Favre sees that and is pretty competitive and wants to do that as well. And Chris has been around and knows that two young guys want to play so he's pretty competitive as well."

All quarterbacks—well, all listed quarterbacks; WR Chad Bumphis is the top wildcat back and he did come for Tuesday interviews—are off limits to media for now. So their evaluations of today's practice aren't known. Mullen's is.

"It went good. They all did pretty good. We'll evaluate the film and watch it with them tomorrow, and hopefully they'll improve tomorrow. But they all did pretty good."

Along with quarterback questions, Mullen was asked about public perceptions that somehow he had taken on a larger share or even all the play-calling in last Saturday's second half. It gave him opportunity to clear some aspects of State's offensive operations.

"It's never all anybody in our system. Everybody has say in what we're going to do. I make suggestions during the course of the game and Les (Koenning) calls it. Or there may be times Les will be trying to call a play and I'll cut him off in the middle of it and say I want to run this. Fortunately Les and I have been around each other long enough where it flows very, very naturally between the two of us.

"So it never becomes a, I won't say an issue but even a communications issue. I'll say I want to run this, he'll say no I really want to run this, cut me off and do it. We have great communication. I may have made an extra contribution here and there but that's all it is."

Mississippi State has full practices ahead on Wednesday and Thursday, with a walk-through on Friday. "We've got a lot of things we have to clean up, but it's only Tuesday. We'll get those cleaned up and get ready to play the game."

And, maybe, announce the starting quarterback before said game? With the way Mullen enjoys fending off such minor questions, maybe he is serious about letting the first-snap lineup settle things. Or, not.

"To me it doesn't matter who plays the first play of the game, it's who plays best during the game. I learned that lesson a long time ago," he said. "Our starters are our starters whether they are in the first play of the game or not."

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