Mullen, Dogs Put On Super Saturday Show

Dan Mullen took the microphone and just couldn't resist continuing the afternoon fun. "We're going to slow some things down with this next number…" he said, before crooning a few bars of ‘Strangers in the Night' to amused media. The coach was right about one thing. His singing was at a much slower pace than his Bulldogs had performed in an unexpectedly entertaining spring football game.

For that matter the outcome was even more unexpected. A Maroon team given little chance of staying with, much less beating, a White team loaded with offensive experience turned the tables. Behind two second-half touchdown runs by WR/RB Brandon Holloway, and two previous rushing scores from RB Derrick Milton, the Maroons pulled off the 38-28 upset.

Their margin was actually or at least technically larger. Because after falling behind in the second half the favored Whites managed only a very illegal but entirely entertaining touchdown pass from walk-on Josh Hand to walk-on-the-field Anthony Dixon. The program's all-time rushing champion and current San Francisco 49ers back came off the sideline after the snap to catch Hand's heave around the 25-yard line and trot across the goal line he used to crash routinely.

Though that play epitomized why spring games aren't, well, games it also added to the general enjoyment. Not just the participants, but the officially-claimed crowd of 21,000 that turned out. Those cheering last and loudest of course were the winning White who not only beat the odds but avoid Sunday stadium cleanup duty, something Mullen began with his first Mississippi State spring game in 2009.

That crowd, all packed onto the east grandstand, also got to observe first-hand the ongoing construction and renovation of the north stadium and renovations to the west side. With a re-opening date of August 2014 that project too is going in a hurry.

As they were assigned record-setting QB Tyler Russell and the starting offensive line, as well as more veteran backs and receivers, the Whites were supposed to set the pace. They did by scoring on a six-play opening drive, with RB Josh Robinson bouncing off his own blocker at left tackle and going 38 yardsd to the Maroon 19. On 4th-and-1 Russell faked the defense while TE Brandon Hill got open for the 10-yard touchdown.

The Maroons tried answering with a big 3rd-and-10 conversion as QB Sam Cowart hit TE Malcolm Johnson for 37 yards. The drive ended on a missed 31-yard field goal by PK Devon Bell, but on their second series the Maroons did get a short field and shorter drive in range for Bell to hit from 30 yards.

But in the second quarter Cowart went deep for M.Johnson. S Jay Hughes read it and came across for the interception, though he had to fall on his own fumble. The Whites responded with a ten-play drive of 52 yards as Russell again went to Hill in the end zone for the touchdown and 14-3 lead. Russell had caught a break as CB Kivon Coman had an interception on his hands and dropped it. Still all seemed to be going to script.

Except the Maroons had thrown their copy away and were playing to win. A 12-play drive changed the game, with Milton's six-yard bash on 4th-and-5 crucial. Cowart threw for nine and 17 yards, and Milton finished with a six-yard touchdown. When they got the ball back with 2:35 before halftime the Maroons needed just five snaps to score. Because the last one was a sideline throw caught by WR Jeremey Chappelle.

He evaded two tacklers and with M.Johnson blasting S Dee Arrington out of the way at the 25-yard line. Chappelle finished the 55-yard scoring play. The Whites nearly answered in the remaining 95 seconds, and had not WR Jameon Lewis' helmet came off on his catch at the 11-yard line they would have led at halftime. As it was they settled for a 37-yard field goal that Evan Sobiesk missed.

Russell didn't play in the second half, but with Hand at quarterback and Kasey Akins carrying on six of the seven plays the Whites did regain the lead on their first third-quarter turn. Against the third defense Vincent Watkins took a short flip from Hand and got to the end zone. But Cowart, Holloway, and Milton had the response, an 11-play series that included a 4th-and-5 completion to WR Fred Brown to keep the chains moving. Milton made it a 24-21 lead with his second six-yard carry.

Getting the ball back at 13:26 of the last period the Maroons struck fast. Because Holloway broke a 56-sweep down the left sideline, to the White 27. On 2nd-and-8 at the 13, Holloway just outran everyone to the right pylon for a 31-21 lead that left the Whites stunned. They did get away with the, ahem, gimmick pass play to Dixon to narrow the margin. But Holloway put it out of reach with an eight-yard touchdown.

That last carry gave the converted wideout 128 yards on a dozen carries with the two touchdowns. Milton had 99 yards on 18 rushes and two scores of his own. For the Whites Robinson had 75 yards on 12 runs. Russell was an efficient 13-of-24 for 179 yards and two TDs in his half's work, while Hand was 3-of-5 for 69 with 65 of that on the illegal play. Cowart, the second-year walk-on, was 23-of-33 for 235 yards.

Chappelle not only had the longest legal catch but the most catches, 8 for 114 yards; while M.Johnson was 4 for 46. On the White side Lewis caught four balls for 61 yards, Robinson 3 for 39, with two catches each by Hill and Robert Johnson.

Because backups played more snaps, walk-on S Deandre Ward came away with the tackles title as he got in on 14 stops, two for losses. Arrington was next-high with seven. Hughes had the only interception for the Whites, and Tyrell Miller of the Maroons picked off Hand. There was only one punt all game, that by walk-on Will Goodwin of the Whites as the teams were a combined 5-of-8 on fourth downs.

Mullen supposedly told his staff that while no one's job was in danger in losing the game, the true goal was giving Mississippi State fans something to cheer and anticipate for the 2013 season. By this measure everybody won…even the reporters who received that short serenade before Mullen's following comments on the spring game and the spring camp as a whole.

An exciting show for the fans today? "Yeah, you know it was a great crowd out here today. And that's what you do for the spring game, is the opportunity for the fans to get out and get real first look at this year's team. And really the first look at a lot of guys they're heard about in recruiting, they've seen about and heard about at practice. And now they get to see them perform on the field."

Some spring games don't have much contact, how good was it to come out and compete? "Well, it is. And our fans help with it, the crowd helps with it. A lot of guys this is their first opportunity to get out here in front of a big crowd in our stadium. So it's a bit more pressure. It's one thing to drop a pass or miss a tackle or have a missed assignment on the practice field. It's another on game day in front of the crowd. So I think that's a big advantage for our guys."

Did you enjoy all the big offensive plays by both teams? "There were a bunch of big plays today. We'll watch on the film to see again if it was a great play or if it was a missed assignment. But I think you can see, even when you split the team in half it doesn't look like there's a lot of guys on each sideline! But I know our guys enjoyed playing the game and having fun. And you know, it will always be some mismatches when you do this."

Are you pleased with the red zone offense? "Yeah. I mean, we kept everything simple. And a lot of the schematics were kept simple for us, just because of the amount of the players that you had to play and the amount of guys you were just rotating, and splitting up the teams the way we did. You didn't want to go too complex."

"So I think maybe that advantage leaned to the offense a little bit, keeping it simple and not doing a lot of thigns."

Christian Holmes went both ways? "Yeah, Geoff asked if he could go play some linebacker. And I said sure. Like I said, in the spring game it's tough because you look in there and John Hevesy is like OK, we're out of linemen, guys have got to start switching jerseys and do some different things. Or guys have got to play some both ways deal. But it's fun. Guys that have worked really hard in the spring, throughout the spring, it might not be with the ones and get as many reps as other people; they get an opportunity on the field today to show what they can do."

How far has Jeremey Chappelle come this spring? "I think he's come a ways. I hope this is a real confidence-builder for him coming out of spring right now going into the summer. Because he now understands. He's been through an off-season program, he's been through spring practice, he's been through what the offense is. Now he can come back and have a little confidence in what he's doing, instead of just learning everything for the first time or figuring it out for the first time. He now has confidence in moving forward and he should take some big steps this summer."

Brandon Holloway thrived as a running back today? "Yeah, he did. I know it's in the second half and against a lot of subs. But he's done a really good job at running back. And we're going to have to look at how we're going to mix and match him, probably going back to play some receiver to start off fall camp. But not dismiss him being a running back in the future."

Sam Cowart had a big game today? "He did! He was talking trash to me in the locker room, showing me what he could do! What it is, I think it just shows it's a great learning for anybody. You know, if you're willing to work hard , you're going to put the time in and you're going to go practice, you're going to see great development. And Sam is a great example of that out there. He's worked really hard this spring, took advantage of his opportunity, he came out and played well today."

Brandon Hill's game "Yeah, Brandon had a solid spring right there. He had the two touchdown catches today. He had one big drop, which in the consistency I think as Brandon moves forward we know he has tremendous potential. He makes a lot of big plays, we've got to keep him doing it on a consistent basis day-in and day-out. But I think as he's grown older you're starting to see that more and more out of him."

Was it good to get off to a fast offensive start? "That always helps that way. I know in the spring it would be a lot happier fans seeing points. They like to see points on the board in spring games. You know, 0-0 wouldn't have fit them too well today."

"But it is good. Especially Tyler (Russell) in that first series, we wanted Tyler to get off and play well, play fast. Because we were only going to play him in the first half, you know, to get him those quality reps. And the first half was good."

How did you like Anthony Dixon's touchdown catch? "Anthony came in and said I want to go run a play. I looked at him, and he said well I'll just run the ball. And knowing him he probably would go run the football without any pads or anything like that. He's got that intensity. But he was with Stick (Preston Rogers), I said put the jersey on and just sneak out on the field and we'll throw you a deep pass down there to go score a touchdown."

"It's always a great thing having all those guys come back, and seeing how important the program is that they always do come back."

Is it good to see that guys really wanted to play to win this game? "Well, the intensity you're going to see, because there are going to be a lot of sad faces at 10:00 tomorrow morning as that White team shows up to go clean the stadium!"

"And the fans that opted to root for the White team today, we should see you at 10:00am tomorrow, right? You're part of a losing squad, that's the punishment. The intensity picks up because they are playing for something out there on the field."

What did you tell the team after this game? "I just told them we had a really good spring. And as spring finished up we can either take a giant step forward going into summer; we can stay the same; or possibly take a step back. If we want to be a championship team, if we want to contend for championships in this league, you'd better take some giant steps forward over the next couple of months until our next practice. Which is going to be in the beginning of August. I mean it's a long time not be out there practicing the game of football. So how we develop as a team, how our players develop as individuals, a lot of the responsibility falls on their shoulders the next couple of months."

How was Geoff Collins' first spring as defensive coordinator? "He did a good job. Geoff had the guys playing hard and the things we want to see. You know, being a co-coordinator last year I don't think it's a major difference for us. But I was pleased how our defense performed, the intensity they had most of spring."

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