Offense Owns Wednesday Bowl Practice Action

Coach Dan Mullen often refers to the first half of bowl camp as, basically, a pre-spring practice. And for one glorious December day the weather was truly spring-like. The unseasonably-nice conditions were somewhat lost on the Bulldog defense, though, just the same as goal-line competition had been.

The result being that while the offensive team and specialists raced to the locker room on schedule and happy, the guys in maroon jerseys stayed late to run some more plays. And more plays, and even more plays. That was the price of giving up a pair of touchdowns in do-or-die situations scripted by Mullen to conclude the practice.

"It's a team thing, so either we're going to win one day or they're going to win," said first-team linebacker Deontae Skinner after the rounds of overtime work. "The offense did real good today, they made some big plays. We just have to come out tomorrow and be better."

Skinner was understating things somewhat. The Mississippi State offense, or make that offenses, were very good over the whole course of Wednesday's two-hour practice. Whether it was the balmy weather putting a spring in their steps, or just having a lot of guys ‘on' their better game today, the white-jersey folk showed off all afternoon. Whether in unit drills, in one-on-one matchups, in the pass/skeleton situations, or full-field and full-squads work, the first and second offenses moved and scored the ball.

Especially when it mattered, in the pair of goal-line chances snapped from the two-yard line. The #1 offense needed two plays to break the plane against their first-team defensive peers, with redshirt TB Josh Robinson bulling through a pile of big bodies to score on a straight dive play. The #2 offense was even more efficient, as freshman QB Dak Prescott rolled right long enough for support to charge up; at which point he pitched to trailing back Robinson for the option-touchdown.

Having lost 2-0, the defense(s) all suffered the consequences. Though as Skinner agreed, the goal-line results were consistent with how most of Wednesday went.

"We didn't do too good today. It's just something everybody has to pay for. Nothing big, we'll just come out tomorrow and do better." Ironically, the media script meant only defensive players and staff were available for interviews, so they had to describe a long afternoon's frustrations. Well, not really frustration, because no matter how proud they are as a group even Dog defenders like having an offensive squad that can score points.

Even against them. "They were making plays all day, in everything," Skinner said.

And doing so short-handed. While starting QB Chris Relf was working as usual with the ones, his alternate Tyler Russell was limited to some unit-drills only. Russell suffered a minor knee injury late Tuesday and reported today with an extra-length ‘wrap' cast on the left leg. This meant more snaps for true frosh Prescott. A lot more, with the second offense. As #3 QB Dylan Favre left the team prior to bowl camp, it meant just two triggermen were available for situational work. Though at least once, starting WR Chad Bumphis did take a direct snap with the second unit as Prescott split-out.

Prescott isn't quite the typical redshirt, as he enrolled at State last January. So the freshman has a spring, a pre-season, and now an off-season of work in the rookie-resume. Third-year man Skinner likes what the kid looks like, even if it comes at his defense's expense.

"I'm really impressed. He's still a young player, you know, he's developing but I saw him make a lot of good throws. He's working hard and takes coaching real good."

The day's best plays came in the 7-man and 11-man matchups. Relf showed the younger quarterback how red zone works by finding Bumphis between first-team linebackers Cam Lawrence and Brandon Wilson for a ten-yard score. Prescott would have followed suit had S Charles Mitchell not separated WR Jameon Lewis from the ball at the goal line. Things worked better for Relf when redshirt WR Devin Fosselman got isolated on Wilson and won for an easy touchdown.

Prescott finally got a pass/skel score from the five-yard line going to Bumphis. Against a scratch defense WR Arceto Clark slipped along the back line for a fine jumping catch, before the situation shifted to full-field and 11-on-11. These were the plays that counted for and against sides and it showed in the intensity. Not that it slowed Relf on the first series, a ones vs. ones at that. Near midfield Relf rolled right, then threw all the way to the left sideline where Bumphis had both a lane and blocking for the touchdown dash.

Working twos-on-twos, Prescott was given at least one starter to throw to; and WR Chris Smith helped him out nicely, curling across for the open catch and clear run to the goal line. From there the matches were mixes of mostly twos and threes with the starters taking occasional turns just to stay in the action. Robinson busted one big through left guard and had nothing to stop him but the whistle, as the coaches didn't want this series ending on a single big run. Prescott scored it anyway as reserve defensive backs just lost track of Lewis for a 20-yard touchdown connection.

Prescott even got to take a turn behind the #1 line against a cobbled-together defense. It helped as WR Joe Morrow beat coverage for big gainer. Later though Morrow proved he could handle better defenders, splitting CB Darius Slay and S Louis Watson for a 50-yard touchdown play on another Prescott throw.

Prescott still had a turnover in red-zone work as he was picked by LB Zach Jackson at the goal line. By contrast Relf found tall target Morrow all alone at the goalposts for a unchallenged catch. All of this came before the concluding competitions that had the offense happy and the defense staying late.

Not too late though as there were unit meetings in store and a short turnaround before Thursday's 10:45 practice. Something expected to change by then is the weather with rain moving in tomorrow. As for changing the on-field results? Skinner and company will do their best.

"It's a grind, every day. But we're doing good in camp and getting ready for Wake Forest. We were banging around a lot, just fundamental things. Pretty much the things we work on in spring, we're working on now."

*The injury rehab Pit was busier than usual today. QB Tyler Russell spent most of Wednesday there as he recovers from a knee injury late in Tuesday's drills, and he wore a full-length ‘wrap' brace on the left leg. But Russell didn't take the whole day off. In a number of unit drill periods he was throwing passes, obviously standing stock-still, so the two healthy quarterbacks could be used elsewhere.

Such as, the one-on-one passing periods where Russell threw to backs matched with linebackers. On the other field Relf threw to true receivers covered by defensive backs, while Prescott worked with tight ends and other linebackers. Even allowing for the immobility Russell still threw the best balls of anyone all day. The drill naturally favors receivers already as they know where to run, but even so Russell completed his first five shots. The only failure came with a walk-on back covered by taller LB Benardrick McKinney, or covered in the sense he blocked the throw with his back.

*Joining Russell in the Pit for stretches were #1 CB Corey Broomfield after banging his left shoulder yesterday. Broomfield did participate in the very first drills, even catching one of the warm-up ‘interceptions' the defensive team opens with. But he was in shorts, like Russell, while all others were in full-gear.

Broomfield's voice isn't injured though, as he had a lot to say from the sideline during 11-on-11 work to the offense(s).

TB Nick Griffin was rehabbing today after Tuesday's unspecified injury, with no brace or wraps seen and full-gear worn. TB Derek Milton (knee) has not been to practice since his Saturday knee sprain.

*Also not present at practice today was #1 CB Johnthan Banks. But he isn't injured, football-wise anyway, the junior was apparently having some dental business attended to.

With both the starting corners out today (Slay and Marvin Bure, or Damien Anderson, got some first-team snaps in full-team drills. They were backed by redshirt Taveze Calhoun and walk-on Jawon (sp?) Washington.

*He isn't in the Pit with the others, much less dressed out. But OG Tobias Smith has his own re-hab process underway after September knee surgery. The junior lineman worked on another field doing short jogs under trainer supervision. Interestingly, he carried a football much of the time…something an offensive guard rarely has contact with.

*Punting and coverage has been a daily practice staple, but Wednesday took up the intensity a notch or two. Punt block was stressed and while it worked only once there were some close calls. In fact had OLB Cameron Lawrence not checked up he was going to stuff P Baker Swedenburg's boot. CB Taveze Calhoun nearly got one on a diving try.

The lone rejection was made by FB Adrian Marcus as he got to Brian Egan's kick. TB LaDarius Perkins recovered and ran into the end zone just for the rowdy fun of it.

*The open-to-public portion of bowl camp concludes Friday with a 5:00 scrimmage at Scott Field. Weather is expected to linger through Friday though.

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