Defense Holds On For Scrimmage Victory

He didn't really give a halftime speech or anything like that. The third teams were having at each other at the time so Dan Mullen was paying at least some attention there. What the Mississippi State coach really did was stick to the pre-scrimmage plan, and that turned the offense loose in the second ‘half' of Saturday's game-type practice at Scott Field.

After being held to a lone touchdown and field goal in the first half, the #1 offense put on a show after their brief break. With QB Tyler Russell in charge, the offense scored on five of their first six possessions and gave several hundred fans—as well as their coaches—something to feel good about.

However it wasn't enough to make up for that first half frustration entirely; or to offset struggles by the second-team offense against their #2 peers. Because when the staffer in charge of tallying ‘points' handed his sheet to Mullen, the white-clad Dog defense had come out ahead. Not by a lot, just enough to avoid any post-scrimmage punishment.

"Like, 92 to 87 or something," Mullen said.

It took four series, two for each unit, before the chains moved. It came on a 30-yard burst by RB Josh Robinson, which would also be the day's longest rush. The drive stopped on 4th-and-1 when Robinson was stuffed at the line.

But started at the two-yard line, coming out, Russell froze the rush with a slick play-fake and found TE Rufus Warren for 28 yards. He followed with a 26-yard completion, but this drive too stopped because RB LaDarius Perkins was dropped for loss of nine on first down. Two more snaps got the ball in range for PK Devon Bell to make a 48-yard field goal. Bell later that half missed from 36 yards.

The two-offense, starting on the positive-40-yard line, got to the 11 thanks to a pass interference call on LB Richie Brown. They also tried to kick, and Evan Sobiesk missed a 23-yard try. On their turn at the plus-40 start, Russell found WR Jameon Lewis in the end zone for a falling-backwards touchdown catch. And that was it for first-half offense by the first two teams. Though the threes did offer some entertainment before halftime. WR Michael Carr made a good catch and bad fumble for turnover, but the coaches chose to let the play stand. Carr had two more grabs against the reserve defense with a touchdown thrown by QB Josh Hand.

What mattered more to Mullen was how the first offense made more plays after the break. Lewis provided a spark as he came down with a sideline catch, somehow spun off LB Matthew Wells' hit, and raced for the pylon. He had to vault both it and S Jay Hughes for the score. Next time with the ball it was Lewis again; he made a great end-zone adjustment off S Dee Arrington and pulled in Russell's touchdown toss.

Going the other way, nobody whistled a ‘sack' even though DE Preston Smith had Russell dead to rights. Allowed to continue looking the quarterback found WR Fred Brown for a 40-yard touchdown. It was typical of the latitude Russell was given as he would have been sacked at least a half-dozen times if not for the hands-off, lose-your-scholarship red uniform.

Russell also got away with a couple of risky throws. CB Jamerson Love ought to have had a pick-six that got between his hands. But he threaded every needle nicely to find TE Brandon Hill for a 20-yard score. And on the last first-team series with 4th-and-goal at the five Lewis crossed right along the far side of the line for a bullet catch and score.

Bell made good on a 32-yard field goal try in the last period, while Sobiesk missed his second such attempt. And the defense(s) weren't exactly rolling-over and playing dead in the second part. LB Zach Jackson covered WR Brandon Holloway all the way to the goal line to break up a Sam Cowart throw, and S Nickoe Whitley did the same to Lewis. LB Benardrick McKinney broke up a deep throw, over 25 yards from where he'd begun the play.

Perkins had a tough day. He got stuck, hard, by Wells on a third-down catch short of the sticks. And in the waning minutes he took a hard hit after gaining ground and had to be helped off. No real damage was reported later. CB Will Redmond sat out the scrimmage entirely, doing wind-sprints on the sideline.

In completely-unofficial statistics kept by media, Russell was 28-of-40 passing for 307 yards and six touchdowns. He was not intercepted. Cowart was 10-of-25 for 69 yards with the second team.

Lewis had nine receptions for 143 yards and three of Russell's touchdowns, while WR Robert Johnson caught eight balls for 70 yards. F.Brown had four receptions for a touchdown and 65 yards, WR Joe Morrow 5 for 31 yards, TE Gus Walley 4 for 31, and Carr 3 for 41 with a score.

Robinson rushed 14 times for 90 yards; Milton 10 times for 29 with a long gain of 10; and Perkins 12 for 27 with an eight-yard pickup. Kasey Akins did the dirty work later with 10 rushes for 29 yards.

LB Beniquez Brown led with nine tackles, breaking up two passes with two tackles for losses. S Kendrick Market had seven stops with a sack and TFL; LB Ferlando Bohanna six tackles, a sack and TFL too; LB Chris Hughes six tackles and a blocked point-after try; S Dee Arrington five tackles; DE Denico Autry give stops and a pass batted down at the line.

S Quadry Antoine had four tackles, LB Benardrick McKinney four with a PBU; S Nickoe Whitley the same; and CB Justin Cox four tackles and a PBU too; LB Deontae Skinner four stops. Wells had three total with two tackles for losses with a sack and a PBU, and seven more Dogs three tackles. One was DE A.J. Jefferson with two for losses, a forced fumble, a hurry and PBU.

The offenses earned five penalties, four of them false-starts; while the defense had the interference and an offsides.

Mullen's post-scrimmage comments follow:

What was your halftime speech "You just do just to teach them in that. Little, subtle things. And a scrimmage is kind of set up that way. I didn't really talk to the guys about it, but what it was we set up the field position drives for the offense part in the second half, it was going to start with momentum. It was going to starting on a short field, scored; started on another short field, scored. And all of a sudden the defense got momentum. In the first half we started them back."

"The two-offense had great field position, the one offense great field position the second half. And it's amazing sometimes with guys, you see that in a game, that older guys will see that and learn how to adapt. Learn how to seize momentum or how to stop momentum if you're starting to lose it."

Talk about Tyler Russell's scrimmage? "A good day. We're still trying a bunch of stuff with install, lookingat a couple of new things here and there. So it was good. A lot of learning."

"It is I guess bad in some ways, you want Tyler--and I'm probably the worst culprit of it, I just want him out there competing and leave him alone. But I'm trying to coach him on the whole thing of what you want of him getting in that mindset. I want him to be that coach on the field. I want between him and the offensive staff all to be on the same page and know why we're doing what we're doing and why we want to make certain calls."

Lewis and Johnson stood out at receivers? "You look, that's what you'd expect, those are the two that are the top returners coming back. And still those young guys have got to really come up. Joe Morrow a couple of opportunities today, you have to continue to improve. Fred Brown the first opportunity really out here, you'll see he had some opportunities and he'll learn from all of those."

The run defense was strong? "Yeah, at different times. And again there's still a lot of, not that we're done with installation; we don't have a lot of checks in and gameplan in. So there's going to be plays where we've got a bad defense called against a great offense that is going to hit. And then we've got a bad offensive play called against a defensive play because we don't have all the gameplan, checks aspect of it through the installation yet. We'll do a little bit more of that this week."

What was the final score? "The defense won. Like 92 to 87 or whatever the scoring was. I mean you get two first downs in a drive or three-and-outs and all of that stuff. We have kind of a different points system that we give to everybody. You guys probably know much more of the stats than I do! I'll figure them all out when I watch the film."

Did the slow start on offense bother you? "No. I think we started slow with Tyler and the O-line. That's the ones that can't start slow, you know what I mean? Even though you're not scoring a lot, it's the not creating a couple of first downs and moving the chains. Even if you're not going to put it in, they had some bad field position too, they've got to be able to move the chains and flip field position. So even if we do have a slow start with points you're always putting the defense in good position to go play and keep it a low-scoring game."

Do you see any difference with Geoff Collins running the defense? "I mean, he's been a coordinator before. He was co-coordinator here last year. So it's not like everything is new for us out here. So I would expect him to be."

He is more vocal though? "Yeah, he's got a lot of energy and has a lot of excitement. And I want a defense that plays with that energy and that excitement and intensity, running around. And I like to see it. Part of the one thing we were talking to them, they had a lot of energy in the first half, talking a lot…and all of a sudden the offense started scoring a couple of times. Yeah, they were put in tough situations. But that's where they have to flip it and make the big play."

Some young guys like Beniquez Brown had good days?"I guess it's hard for me to see a lot of the specifics of guys, because I watch that on the film. So I'm looking at kind of the big picture. But I think it is. From my vantage point I saw a lot. I saw A.J. Jefferson make a couple of what would appear to be good plays."

"But I'm hoping next week's scrimmage is going to be a lot, maybe cleaner. I mean we've got to pick up the tempo and all. I thought everything was kind of like slow today. But much more game-like. A lot of people got this one under their belt now, and we're going to move forward."

Was Russell working more in the shotgun than under-center? "I don't know, it was just kind of what I was trying to get done today in different looks and different plays. You know what happens when you come out to practice and we have an installation day; the under-center plays you're repping those over and over and over to get those taught. So sometimes it's not always going to be a true perception of what is going to happen. When you're installing some stuff one day you might say like ‘wow, all under-center that day!' It was just what was installed that day."

Is LaDarius Perkins OK? "Yeah, I think he just got hit in the head form the side. So I think he'll have a little bit of a headache."


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