Scrimmage Concludes Phase-One Of Bowl Camp

Dan Mullen predicted two things would come out of Friday night's scrimmage. First, that the Bulldogs would get to have some fun. And second, that Dak Prescott would leave Scott Field exhausted. The coach proved good as his word.

Mississippi State players got to blow off a lot of scrimmage steam as they completed the ‘camp' portion of their Music City Bowl practice schedule. There were enough touchdowns, more than enough interesting plays, and a plethora of energetic competition as the Bulldogs did seem to enjoy the fast-paced session.

And yes…true freshman quarterback Prescott was one tired puppy.

But a productive one, too. Given charge of the second, and at times third offense, Prescott seized the scrimmage opportunity to pile up some impressive numbers. Informal ones too because no official stats were kept. As best could be counted, Prescott came away with 418 passing yards for his first real experience on State's home field, completing 36 of 49 passes. Two of his completions went for touchdowns, and Prescott ran for a score himself.

Mississippi State would have given the youngest quarterback a longer look anyway, but the extra work—Prescott ran 18 of the 24 separate series—came from other factors. #2 quarterback Tyler Russell was held out entirely to protect the knee sprained in a midweek practice. And there was no #3 after second-year frosh Dylan Favre left the team prior to bowl camp.

So once Mullen and staff were satisfied senior starter Chris Relf had done enough for his last college scrimmage, the new kid had the job. His final numbers weren't actually reflective of how well he delivered, because the last six turns running cobbled-together units cut into his efficiency. Up to then, Prescott was an amazing 29-of-37.

By equally-informal count Relf was 15-of-20 in his six series, with 172 yards netted. His line would have read even better if not for a couple of turnovers. The first came on an interception as S Louis Watson ended the evening's opening series on third down by picking off Relf and returning the ball 23 yards. The second wasn't Relf's fault; he'd completed a second down throw from the offense's 49-yard line to WR Sam Williams for a 24 yard gain, only to have the wideout stripped for a fumble.

The third and fourth turns ended on downs, before Relf led the first offense to the end zone. It was on a eight-play drive that began on the five-yard line after the #2 offense had also fumbled away the ball on a completed pass. In this case, WR Jameon Lewis was the culprit as he caught Prescott's throw and had the first down yardage, only to be stripped by DE Preston Smith. S Kendrick Market recovered the loose ball.

Facing the second defense now, Relf six-of-seven throwing this series. He found WR Robert Johnson for eleven yards to get the drive going, and a twenty-yard burst to midfield by TB Nick Griffin changed field position even more. On 2nd-and-2 at the defense's 42, Relf just swung the ball out to WR Joe Morrow on the right side. A screen-type play, Morrow still had to break two tacklers anyway…and did, breaking loose for the longest scoring play of the scrimmage.

Relf's evening ended with another touchdown drive, also against the backup defense, needing seven snaps to go 65 yards. His big plays went to tight ends Malcolm Johnson (11 yards) and Brandon Hill (27), before WR Chad Bumphis slipped through coverage for the concluding nine-yard catch.

This left the rest of the quarterbacking to Prescott. He too had a slow start including a couple of turnovers and three-and-outs. Prescott's opening turn did see him convert a fourth-down but he also lost the handle for a fumble-away. He was sacked on the second series, and the third time up had good gainers of 23 (Hill) and 18 (WR Sam Williams) yards before throwing an interception to S Dee Arrington at the 30-yard line. Then came Lewis' fumble to stop another drive five yards from the goal line.

But the rookie caught something from Relf's first scoring drive to complete one of his own, a 65-yard surge of eight plays. On 3rd-and-7 at the 11-yard line Prescott took advantage of his red jersey to scramble straight ahead for a touchdown. He wasn't to be so lucky other runs as the defense made him pay for the score, later.

Still he led another three scoring drives, two for touchdowns. On third down inside the five-yard line he found Lewis again, who this time held on for the score. After a 42-yard series produced a 32-yard field goal by Derek DePasquale, it was time for another touchdown with redshirting TE Rufus Warren pulling in the two-yard flip after a 65-yard drive. That score was set up as Lewis turned a 15-yard catch into 28 yards by dragging surprised tacklers for the bonus gains and darned nearly into the end zone.

Prescott had two more touchdown drives on his ledger. A 55-yard series was completed by TB Josh Robinson's two-yard plunge through the pile; then a 80-yarder needing 11 plays saw Robinson do it again, this time from four yards out. There were five more series, most featuring combinations of #2s and 3s on both sides of the ball, without any more scoring.

Morrow was the top target, catching eight balls and turning them into 134 yards of gain with the big touchdown break. Lewis had five receptions for 66 yards with one score, and Malcolm Johnson five more for 62 yards. The big surprise though was Hill with three grabs of twenty-plus yards and 81 total gains on five receptions. WR Robert Johnson had four catches and 38 yards. Starters like Bumphis, Chris Smith, and Arceto Clark had short appearances to younger route-runners could have their fun.

It wasn't all throwing and catching. TB Nick Griffin had 16 carries for 86 yards, while TB Josh Robinson rushed 19 times for 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Starter Vick Ballard had the evening off entirely and alternate LaDarius Perkins just worked a couple of early series.

Mullen met with media at the Holliman Center to go over the scrimmage results and impressions. "That's really the end of phase-one of bowl prep," he said.

"You have the three phases. You have introductory, the fundamentals and young player phase which we just wrapped up. As you got to see, a lot of guys got to play tonight. Phase-two starts tomorrow, which is bowl week right here on campus. Then phase-three is bowl week at the bowl site."

Q: What was the overall impression? "I thought it looked pretty good. There was a lot of sloppiness out there on the field at different times, that's disappointing especially from the older guys. They didn't get many reps, when they were in there there were some sloppy things. But overall I wanted to make sure everybody had fun and we get a lot of guys opportunities to play in the stadium."

Q: How big was this for a young quarterback like Prescott? "Yeah, he got a ton of reps. So it was a great opportunity for him, especially going in the stadium. He gets to see how much he really has to work on, how many reps he needs before he's ready to go play in a game."

"I thought he pretty good. He's such a high-energy guy, he got very motivated. He works really hard, wants to be good. So it's just going to be a lot of teaching for him. He has the want-to, he has the ability, the toughness, he likes to be a leader out there on the field. Now he just has to get the skill all down."

Q: How much will you use this film next spring? "A lot. Not just for us in evaluating, but a lot of teaching. One of the things, guys like to learn from watching themselves. And now we have a lot of clips of themselves, not just when you take game clips from last year, and clips of themselves in practice over the last week or so. They get to see those things and improve from there."

Q: How did Nick Griffin look? "He sprained an ankle earlier this week, too. Some of these guys like Nick and Josh Robinson really ran the ball a whole lot this week, so they were a little beat-up and bruised-up. And it was the first time they had to be beat-up and bruised-up and still go run the ball. So they got some experience with that."

"They ran hard. Nick is still getting back, Josh now understands what it's going to take next year I think after this week. He took a good beating this week. Nick I still don't think is back at 100% but even if he's close to 100% health he's still got to get the confidence. And hopefully this spring he'll get that confidence back."

Q: Will Tyler Russell get back to practice this week? "No, the plan I think is he's going to practice Sunday and Tuesday to go full. Tomorrow he'll put the immobilizer on and just throw routes and that stuff (in) seven-on-seven. But team stuff, talking to the trainers they want to go Sunday, a day-off and just put the immobilizer back on and let it heal again on Monday; then practice Tuesday."

Q: Is watching a Joe Morrow work today like having a new car you can't drive yet? "Yeah. The tough thing with the rule and these kids, if they gave all kids five years of eligibility there would be some more kids playing. And it would be a great opportunity, I think Joe would be playing here in the later part of the season and getting experience and getting some reps on the field here and there. But you're not going to take a year of eligibility away to get 40 plays during a season. But it's good for him to see him out there and he's starting to develop, and we think he's going to be a great playmaker here for us next year."

Q: With graduations on the starting offensive line have you seen progress from potential replacements and backups? "Yeah. They still have a long way to go. The nice thing, I saw Tobias Smith jogging the other day. So if he is on track for training camp we'll be in good shape to get him back. Hopefully, we're going to need some more reinforcements in recruiting to come in; and guys are going to have to come in and play right away to add to the guys that have been getting reps that are already here."

Q: What does Dak have to improve on now? "Well, decision-making, he's got a long way to go. What you see is a guy who has great want-to, he's very high-motor, tough, shows leadership while he's out there on the field. But he's got to learn the skill and the decision-making of the quarterback position, which that's what is going to take a lot of time. He made a lot of nice plays out there tonight, but there are some other things he's got to get better at in decision making when you're out there on the field."

Q: Was this practice to be going up-tempo all the time, to get the young players' minds focused? "No, we kept it pretty simple. And when we keep it simple we get going a little faster, I think. There was no decision to try to go fast today. I think Dak likes to go fast and he's just kind of that way, he's grabbing guys and throwing them up to the line of scrimmage!"

"I think when you keep it real simple you end up going a little faster."

Q: Is there any review tomorrow of the scrimmage or is it all Wake Forest now? "All Wake Forest. It's the end, all of this is done. We're not going to watch it, we won't end up watching this until January. Late February will probably be the time we watch this scrimmage. Everything from here on out is game week."

Q: What are your early impressions of Wake Forest? "Obviously a good football team. They throw the ball on offense, they can put up a lot of points. And defensively they blitz you from all over the place, give you a lot of multiple looks on defense out of their 3-4 front. They have an all-conference-calibre nose tackle that makes a ton of plays, and they move their guys around. They're not a big defense but they are always blitzing and moving from every direction."

"They throw the ball over the place, they throw for 270-something yards a game? They're kind of different from what I've seen of them in the past where they were a big run-oriented team; they're kind of a pass first team now."

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