The game-type session had most of the elements of a real game, including a starting time around 6:30 which Bulldog teams have gotten very used to these past few seasons. All that was missing were true ‘return' plays by the kickoff and punt teams, point-after attempts for all the touchdowns, fans and bands…oh, and a head coach.
Dan Mullen was excused from the evening's affairs for a much more important duty as he and wife Megan welcomed their second child, a daughter, to Mississippi State. The big news did not take anything away from the scrimmage, though, as the coordinators ran the show efficiently and maybe even a bit more on-schedule. But only one coordinator left the field on-time and happy, not to mention breathing normally.
Chris Wilson's side of the ball were the winners based on series' scores, or perhaps not-scores would be more accurate. Although, there was a touchdown registered by the defense. In the second half, second-offense QB Dak Prescott converted on a third-and-five pass play with an eight-yard reception by WR Chad Bumphis, who then lost the handle at the 41-yard line. CB Taveze Calhoun scooped and scored off the mistake.
The other turnovers came on interceptions of both Prescott and starting QB Tyler Russell. And with how his unit put the clamps on so much of the base offense, the ground game in particular, no wonder Wilson was smiling. In fact, he claimed, "Tonight if we had had an opponent come in we'd be able to actually play a full game. And that was what was nice, to be able to watch guys making plays not out there thinking."
His counterpart was a bit breathless because Les Koenning took it upon himself to run the same wind sprints as the offensive players. Still in sharp shape the one-time wide receiver out-ran quite a few Dogs, too. Though the offensive side was glad their boss didn't have the breath left for a long post-scrimmage talk, given his obvious irrititations.
"There are so many close things that we had and didn't consistently make," Koenning said. "And you have to hold on to the ball, not turn over the ball."
Topping the takeaway chart was CB Darius Slay. The senior picked off Russell not once, not twice, but three times, and ought to have come away with at least one other pass. Slay, an alternate on the first defense with senior Corey Broomfield, was the evening's star, and credited inside information.
"I've been playing with Tyler a long time, so I know what he's looking for and how he throws the ball. I was just ready to make plays tonight, a big-time scrimmage for us." Big-time in the sense that the offense has had some strong spring showings so far and it was time for payback. "The secondary stepped up today. Everybody did their job, the defensive line was big. Autry and Boyd stepped up."
For their part offensive players figured they had stepped right up to the edge of a big showing, only to stop there. "We started out kind of fast, that's what we tried to do," TB LaDarius Perkisn said. "But we went flat, and that can't happen." Nor, Perkins said, was the defense playing much more than standard sets.
"They played base a lot. They blitzed a few times and did some different things, but it wasn't nothing we haven't seen all spring."
Working against the first-team defense only, Russell had some nice numbers. Unofficially he was 15-of-27 with a pair of touchdowns passes against the three Slay picks. Of his 13 series three ended with touchdowns, on with a made field goal, another on a missed kick. Prescott was 15-of-31 for 145 yards and a touchdown, also getting 13 series in. One of his series got to the end zone on a rush; and was intercepted once with another series stopped by that fumbled catch-and-return.
It took the first offense just five plays to go 75 yards against the first defense, the first three rushes by Perkins for 37 yards. Russell took care of the rest with throws of 11 yards to Bumphis and 27 more to TE Malcolm Johnson for the touchdown.
Their second series took just four plays, the biggest a 42-yard sideline grab and go by Johnson again. Russell finally threw a ball not caught, but WR Joe Morrow was interfered with in the end zone to break it up. With the ball spotted on the two-yard line TB Josh Robinson slid through traffic and around the end for the touchdown. Later an 11-play series produced a 32-yard field goal by Brian Egan.
That was just about the first-half highlights for the first-team though, as Russell's third series ended with an interception by Slay. The second offense needed four turns with the ball before getting points, and it came largely on individual effort as RB Derek Milton broke tackles on a 16-yard burst into the end zone.
S Louis Watson got even with Prescott before the break by intercepting him. Both offense were put in a fifty-second situation, two timeouts, and failed to convert. Russell was sacked on fourth down and Prescott was incomplete on his chance. The ‘halftime' consistent of third-teams scrimmaging with no stats kept.
On their second turn of the second half Russell needed just one pass for the night's biggest play, a throw over the middle to tall target Morrow in traffic. Not only did he come down with the catch around the 40-yard line, he spun off Broomfield and went untouched the rest of the way for an 83-yard touchdown. The first-defense got even the next series as a long try for WR Arceto Clark was intercepted, somehow, by Slay again.
The #1s were given starting position inside midfield and drove far enough for Egan to try a 42-yard field goal that went wide left. On the ensuing series Bumphis made his mistake that redshirt Calhoun took 41 yards for defensive points, the last scoring of any sort. It ought not have been, though, because on the final series Prescott took the #2 offense from their 30-yard line to the other 19. Both Morrow and TE Brandon Hill had balls on their hands, in the end zone, and dropped them.
Malcolm Johnson was top Dog among receivers with six grabs for 87 yards and a touchdown, though he also dropped one that would have added another score. "It was just me and Tyler on the same page. And we were clicking as a whole team," Johnson said. At least they were for a while. "We were playing off adrenalin and had a lot of emotion coming in."
No quarterbacks were actually brought to the ground but whistle sacks were scored by several defenders, such as DE Shane McCardell with a pair. Blitzing CB Johnthan Banks had one for sure but jogged on past Russell as officials let play continue. The real heat came from DE Denico Autry with constant pressure on the passer. Perkins rushed 11 times for 74 yards, while Robinson had just 20 yards on 13 rushes. The defense was able to make plenty stops for losses on all backs, and had option plays nicely strung-out.
And of course there were the interceptions, not all just from coverage plays. "We were doing pretty good pressure-wise," Boyd said. "We still have more we can improve on but so far we're looking pretty good."
That said, the offense has had some good-looking days of their own this spring. And they have one other chance to show it, to a crowd no less. Mullen, once off maternity leave, will have two practices this week in preparation for the spring game, then put everybody on the field—or half of it anyway what with the concert complications—next Saturday evening. It might be a short field but by their talk some Bulldogs are going to give a full-effort in the final public appearance before the real 2012 play begins in September.
"Every time we step in the stadium it's going to be serious," said Perkins. "It's game time."