Monday Bulldog Football Notebook

One would think by now Josh Boyd would be beyond opening day jitters, and particularly against a lower-division opponent. One would be wrong. "Yeah, every day, I get nervous before every game."

That's saying something. This senior defensive tackle has started his share of Southeastern Conference contests. He's played every game of his college career to-date. And big Boyd is a preseason all-conference and national awards candidate. Yet here he is on Monday, counting down the dates to kickoff and already feeling those twinges.

"Yeah, I still do!" Boyd said. "Once you get the first play out it's like OK, I'm here and it's time to go."

Mississippi State is more than ready to go forward with game-week work, having completed the grueling training camp stretch. And yes, even the head coach called up the annual late-August cliché as Dan Mullen also looked ahead to Saturday and the 6:08 kickoff with Jackson State.

"It should be a fun matchup for everybody in our state, and should be a good challenge for us in game-one. I know our guys are ready for that challenge and ready to get out on the field and hit somebody else."

The other cliché contained in Mullen's comment was ‘challenge'. It is a SEC tradition to build lower-division guest up to near-mythical status of course. This does not diminish Bulldog fan expectations of an easy opening evening at Scott Field. Boyd has heard it himself. And he has a response ready based o personal experience.

"You can't count anybody out. You go in and count a team out, then you start to play down or play to somebody's level, then you find yourself in a dogfight. You have to play everybody like it's a big game. Every game is a big game."

That's no cliché either. Boyd recalls how just two seasons ago visiting Alcorn State threw an early flurry of passes and punches at Mississippi State and had the home crowd antsy for a half. Lesson learned, said Boyd. "We were playing down and they capitalized on it. So you have to treat every game like it's a big game."

Boyd actually made his own college debut in 2009 against Jackson State, which was also the first MSU game under Mullen's management. Those Bulldogs made quick work of the visiting Tigers with 38 unanswered points, and Boyd had two total tackles as an alternate. Now a senior, Boyd says he doesn't know anyone personally on the 2012 Tiger roster.

He does know it is a proud program itching for this shot at real glory by knocking off their in-state SEC peer. The odds would be very long of course, but as a Mississippi boy himself Boyd understands the sort of on-field intensity coming Saturday. "I've seen a few games, especially when we played them my freshman year. It's a lot of good players on the team, and some guys that might have transferred in. But I know they have a lot of good players on their team."

Then again Mississippi State has plenty of good, very good, and potentially great defensive linemen ready to roll into this season. If any bunch of Bulldogs really meets Mullen's idea of ‘hit somebody else' it is the big guys up front. And the number of bodies available for rotations is deep bordering on ridiculous. This despite the departure of All-American Fletcher Cox.

"Fletcher was a very big part of our line," Boyd said. "But I think more now with the depth and still having a lot of talent. I think it should be one of the more talented d-lines we've had." Coordinator Chris Wilson has made it clear he wants to reduce total snaps for his starters and there are certainly enough, and good enough, linemen to allow this. The only cost to Boyd is shots at more tackles and statistics.

"I mean yeah, sometimes I don't want to come off the field. But just knowing I've got a guy who can back me up taking some of the snaps off of my hands so I can be fresher is a big deal. I think that will be a big deal."

Meanwhile old Dog Boyd will cope with his own shivers in anticipation of first snap…while helping prepare all those youngsters for the same feelings. Especially kids like Quay Evans, already in the three-deep tackle rotation after some impressive spring showings. Big as they are, nobody is immune to opening night anxieties, Boyd said.

"I believe for those guys they'll be a little nervous. Because you know what I'm saying, it'll be their first really big game in front of a lot of people. But I'll just try to let them know it will be OK, just concentrate on everything you've practiced and you'll be alright."

OLD HANDS: Boyd is one of the five current Bulldogs who have played in every one of Mullen's 38 games, including that 2009 opener with Jackson State. The others are CB Johnthan Banks, S/CB Corey Broomfield, FB Sylvester Hemphill, and WR Brandon Heavens. WR Chad Bumphis misses this elite list as an injured shoulder suffered in the 2010 Egg Bowl win kept him out of the Gator Bowl.

None of these have started every Mullen game. Banks comes the closest with 32 starts, having moved into The Opening lineup mid-way of the 2009 season. Boyd and Broomfield have 28 career starts. Junior OG Gabe Jackson has the longest running starting streak at 26 games in 2010-11.

INJURY UPDATE: As promised, Mullen provided a NFL-style injury update at his Monday press conference. "(TE) Malcolm Johnson has a pectoral so he's doubtful for the next couple of weeks. (walk-on TE) Hunter Bradley is going to be out for the season with an ACL. And (OG) Templeton Hardy is doubtful with an ankle.

"Everybody else is probable for us. Our injury report is probably like that," Mullen said, holding his hands almost a foot apart. "It's do what they can do at practice which means they're bumped and bruised-up and sore from training camp. As far as the out list, it's three guys."

Asked if any players are suspended for the 2012 opener, "We'll announce those Saturday if there are any." A year ago Mullen held out a number of players at Memphis, including DT Fletcher Cox, OT Blaine Clausell, QB Dylan Favre, and LB Chris Hughes.

READY AND WAITING: The health situation of most interest going into this season is senior guard Tobias Smith, by consensus the most talented of Bulldog blockers. And, the one who has battled more injuries than some entire offensive lines. A year ago at this time Smith, who alternated in a successful 2010 three guard rotation, got in two starts before a knee injury early against LSU. Surgery sidelined him the rest of the season.

Smith has played in just 18 out of a possible 38 varsity games. He did not practice in spring at all, though he was moving around very well. This preseason he has been scripted with the goal of getting Smith through a full year's work on an offensive line in need of his skills and experience.

"Right now the plan is that he is going to start for us," Mullen said. "I want to let him break himself in, I don't know if he will play the entire game. But I will see how this week goes and how he holds up, and how he feels." Smith has made completely clear how he feels: he wants to play right now and stay on the field. It might require a couple of defensive linemen to hold the right guard back at the beginning of a new series if Mullen tells another to take turns. That would be either sophomore Ben Beckwith or redshirt freshman Justin Malone, though with Hardy out this week Beckwith is also expected to spell starting LG Gabe Jackson.

The 2010 season was a rousing success for the offensive line for lots of reasons, two named Derek Sherrod and J.C. Brignone. Yet Smith's contributions for 20-30 snaps off the bench were a worthy factor as well. So could a comparable rotation be in mind for this season, or at least this September?

"We protected him a lot during training camp, even though he did just about every drill," Mullen said. "But the big things is how does he react when it is a full 100 miles per hour with bodies flying everywhere. I want to see where his confidence is. Hopefully we will get some solid play out of him but we don't know how far he will go."

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