That was the case, Mullen noted, of DE Preston Smith. The '11 signee did not play in four September games, then was subbed-in at Georgia. "And then he played significant time the rest of the season. We had a need and we put him in, and he played a lot from that point forward."
"We don't put them on the field until they're ready to play, and they're ready to contribute significantly," Mullen said. "Because we don't want to waste a young man's year just being on the kickoff team. Not that we don't need those guys on the kickoff team! But we don't want to waste a year just doing that. With all our freshmen right now we're still in the decision process. But by not putting them in, we're keeping that availability of redshirting them open."
So far then 15 true freshmen from the 2012 signing class have been held out, including DB Will Redmond whose situation remains undecided during the ongoing NCAA check of his and other Memphis-area players recruitments. Four other members of the signing class did not enroll; DB Kivon Coman and TE Artimas Samuel are attending prep school, while QB Nick Schuessler and TE Adarrius Perkins went elsewhere.
Of the un-played 15, about the only frosh with good reason to figure they are redshirting are offensive linemen OT Cole Carter and OC Devon Desper. Mullen said it is just a fact of the game that few, very few brand-new blockers are ready for immediate college action. Much less facing SEC defensive linemen.
"We talk about how some of these guys come out of high school, they are 300-pound guys that are blocking 210-pound guys. And now they're going to block other 300-pound guys. All of the technique, everything they've done, kind of needs to be re-taught."
Also, Mullen has signaled that the two newest wide receivers, Fred Brown and Brandon Holloway, are not likely to play. Not for lack of ability, but because State's necessity to sign so many wideouts back in 2009 and '10 has produced a top-heavy roster this year. "But look next year, we're probably not going to redshirt many freshmen receivers next year because we have half our roster at the wide receiver positions walking out the door in December! So guys are going to have to come in and play right away at that position."
PROWLING FOR PICKS: CB Darius Slay saw his three-game interceptions streak end last week as no pickable South Alabama passes came his way. Instead the Jaguars directed most throws towards the center of the field or in situations covered by Mississippi State safeties. That played to the benefit of FS Nickoe Whitley as he snagged a second-quarter throw and took it 66 yards, longest return of the year by a Bulldog. It was Whitley's fifth career interception.
But CB Johnthan Banks wasn't to be denied either. In the fourth quarter he came over in support on a USA strike down the numbers and was positioned to catch a caromed incompletion. It was his 15th career interception, third of the season, and puts the senior one behind Walt Harris for the MSU record.
Mullen said offenses which shied away from challenging All-American candidate Banks early on now don't know which way to go. Or throw long. Unless it is against those safeties or perhaps in matchups with linebackers. So, "We've got to take away everything over the middle," Mullen said, given how Banks and Slay are sealing off the corners. "It will become a fearsome tandem out there on the field with both of them, and hopefully they can play off of each other."
More throws in the centerfield would be welcome by SS, and former CB, Corey Broomfield, still awaiting his first interception of the season. Or two seasons in fact; the senior got all his nine so-far career picks in 2009-10. Between them the four State secondary starters have 37 interceptions.
TURNOVER TURNAROUND: Slay remains in a three-way tie for first in the NCAA for interceptions this week, while the Bulldog team as a whole is alone in #1 with nine in four games. Mississippi State is also first for total turnovers gained with 15, two ahead of Kansas and Notre Dame in second. Complementing this, the Bulldog offense is tied for sixth-best in turnovers (or lack thereof) with just two so far.
It's just the sort of winning formula Mullen favors. "Every year we talk about turnovers. The great thing is we're the one creating a lot of turnovers now and we're protecting the ball on the offensive side. And when you are big-plus in turnover margin you're going to win a lot of football games." Mullen teams are 20 wins, just one loss when coming out ahead in the weekly turnover totals.
"Those are game-changing plays. We need to continue that streak, to protect the ball and create turnovers."
OH, SNAPPED: One streak which ended last week was QB Tyler Russell's run without an interception. Ironically, Russell had just the throw before tied the program record of 137 passes without a pick, a stretch dating back to last year's Tennessee-Martin game. The turnover was just the most obvious issue on what all, including the man himself, agree was not Russell's best game.
Though Mullen did point out the interception was not entirely the fault of the passer. WR Arceto Clark ran, Mullen said, "a horrendous route. I don't think he thought he was getting the ball. And the ball was actually pretty good, (Clark) was just going through the motions down the field."
Still most other missed connections, including once when Clark did his job and got open down the middle, were Russell's problem. Mullen thought the quarterback, who was so smooth and accurate at Troy in spite of several glaring drops, was suddenly aiming the ball or holding on too long looking to make a perfect play instead of the available play. "But that is nothing that is not going to get corrected."
One obvious result of waiting too long is taking too many hits as Russell has in three-straight games. He also left Troy with an icepack on the throwing hand, and while Russell insisted nothing was wrong with that prior to South Alabama it might have also contributed to inaccuracy. Though, "He's fine," is Mullen's report as of this week.
Quarterbacks coach Les Koenning has warned Russell of the risks in delaying the throw until everything is perfect, such as a sack he took at Troy. "Tyler tried to make things happen, he knew pressure was coming and told me Coach, I thought I could hold on to it." So this lesson is being stressed before State gets back into SEC play.
However, one hit Russell took was not his fault. Against Auburn, when State forced a Tiger defender to jump the snap. "We ran a play where we ‘dummy' our cadence," Koenning explained. OC Dillon Day did what he was supposed to and hiked for the free five yards. But Russell was not ready for the ball, which was bounced back to him anyway.
"It was kind of funny, the ball was snapped and it hit him in the ankles," said Koenning. "He's reaching down to get the ball and they clock him right in the head, I just died laughing! He even started laughing, he said they got me pretty good. And Dan told him protect yourself when you go down."
TAKING MORE TURNS? He wasn't able to play at Troy, but QB Dak Prescott did get some series against South Alabama besides his usual substitution-snaps in goal-line or short-yardage settings. Mississippi State's plan is to keep utilizing Prescott's own skill-set, particularly his running prowess, as often as possible.
"I think it's great for Dak," said Koenning. "Hopefully we can get him in some games and get him some experience."
Mullen has talked this week about creating favorable matchups for the offense, and offered as a past-example how Florida would shuttle Tim Tebow into games in 2007 to pound the ball alternating with thrower Chris Leak. Mullen was not specifically comparing that past-case to Mississippi State's current tandem…but the implications are obvious. Koenning reminds that this approach got used a little bit last season but in the reverse-case.
"Last year we had Tyler and Chris Relf which opened up the quarterback run game for us. Now we've got Tyler throwing the football which opens up the run game. You've got answers for both types of quarterbacks, it's what do you utilize? And that's depending on the people you have."
So might we see Prescott's role expanding beyond the high-percentage run plays? "It just depends what the defense is giving you. It's hard for me to say this is what is going to happen on this play, you always leave the flexibility of those kids getting you in the right play."
PARTICIPATION LIST: 64 Bulldogs played against South Alabama after 62 participated at Troy. New starters for the fourth game from week-three were FB Sylvester Hemphill in place of TE Marcus Green; LB Benardrick McKinney in place of LB Matthew Wells; and DT Dewayne Cherrington in place of DT Curtis Virges.
The full participation list: *WR Chad Bumphis 4-4, WR Brandon Heavens 4-0, WR Jameon Lewis 4-0, *S Nickoe Whitley 4-4, RB Nick Griffin 4-0, *WR Chris Smith 4-4, *CB Darius Slay 4-4, *LB Cameron Lawrence 4-4, WR Ricco Sanders 3-0, LB Chris Hughes 4-0, *CB Johnthan Banks 4-4, QB Dak Prescott 2-0, WR Joe Morrow 4-0, *QB Tyler Russell 4-4, *WR Arceto Clark 4-4, TE Brandon Hill 3-0, DB Louis Watson 4-0, LB Matt Wells 4-3, *FB Sylvester Hemphill 4-2, CB Jamerson Love 3-0, *SS Corey Broomfield 4-4, *RB LaDarius Perkins 4-4, RB Derrick Milton 3-0, S Jay Hughes 4-0, TE Marcus Green 4-2, RB Josh Robinson 4-0, FB Adrian Marcus 4-0, CB Taveze Calhoun 4-0, S Dee Arrington 4-0, P Baker Swedenburg 4-4, K Devon Bell 4-4, PK Charlie Grandfield 2-0, LB Christian Holmes 4-0, LB Zach Jackson 4-0, S Kendrick Market 3-0, DE Ryan Brown 4-0, *LB Benardrick McKinney 4-0, *LB Deonte Skinner 4-4, LB Ferlando Bohanna 4-1, DL Quay Evans 4-0, ST Dylan Holley 4-0, OT Archie Muniz 4-0, DT Devin Jones 4-0, OL Daniel Knox 1-0, *OG Gabe Jackson 4-4, *OC Dillon Day 4-4, OG/ST Ben Beckwith 4-0, ST Templeton Hardy 3-0, *OG Justin Malone 4-2, SN Winston Chapman 4-4, *DT Dewayne Cherrington 4-1, *OT Blaine Clausell 4-4, *OT Charles Siddoway 4-4, ST/OT Damien Robinson 4-0, WR Robert Johnson 4-0, TE Rufus Warren 4-0, HO Chris Cameron 4-4, DT Nick James 4-0, *DE Denico Autry 4-3, DE Preston Smith 4-0, *DT/E Kaleb Eulls 4-4, DE Shane McCardell 4-2, *DT Josh Boyd 4-4, DT Curtis Virges 3-1.