Clausell Enjoying These Opening Week Jitters

Never mind he's done this opening-day drill before, or has 24 college games with 17 starts under his belt. A new season has Blaine Clausell as fidgety as any freshman. "And I'm just ready to play, I've got jitters now just talking about it."

Since he said this on a Monday, one wonders whether Clausell can get himself under control in time for Saturday's 2:30 kickoff against Oklahoma State. It's an issue of some importance too since he occupies the left end of Mississippi State's offensive line. It would not be good form for a junior tackle to jump snap counts or suchlike on opening day. Or any game day for that matter.

Still the jitters are understandable, even for a veteran. The Bulldogs have been building up toward this particular opening ever since they left the Gator Bowl locker room…and that's a long wait.

"I'm just ready to go play," said Clausell. "The time is come and that's what we've been working on all year. So we're just ready for that."

Hopefully ready translates into able. This is not the usual sort of kickoff contest for Mississippi State, which last played a ranked opponent on opening day—or night—in 2007, and that at home. It's a radical change which sends Coach Dan Mullen's fifth Bulldog team across a couple of state lines to face the ranked Cowboys on a neutral field.

Whatever the wisdom of accepting this high-profile, inter-conference opportunity, Clausell has a player's perspective. Even if it means his team is a pronounced underdog in the eyes of neutral observers.

"That's fine with me. I like being the underdog, that makes me play even better," said Clausell, presumably speaking for everyone else in the Bulldog locker room. "Of course, you always want to beat the big-time teams." Which would go a long way toward earning these '13 Dogs a place among that number.

But success Saturday means performing on opening day with a mid-season efficiency. Because this is no break-in sort of ball game as in the past four debuts. Every area of the State squad will be tested to their best, including Clausell's corps at the offensive forefront. It is an all-veteran group which will line up Saturday. Four of them—tackles Charles Siddoway and Clausell, center Dillon Day and left guard Gabe Jackson—all started the full 13 games in 2012. Right guard Justin Malone had four starts of his own so there is sufficient familiarity within these moving parts.

At the same time there are questions to be entirely answered about Bulldog blocking; the potential is obvious, it is production which needs proving. Especially because this roster has so many runners and catchers for exploiting with an elite-class quarterback to do the distributing.

Clausell isn't insulted by any such questions. Proving the doubters wrong is the best answer.

"I just use that as something to drive me, to get me better. And we use that as an offensive line to make each other better. So we're ready to go out there and prove ourselves." And because these are O-linemen the ambitions are shared more than individual. Maybe it's that there are no public statistics kept on them but blockers are better than anyone at putting the team first.

"I mean that's a great motivation," Clausell said. "Because obviously you want to win a championship. We know if we go out and perform at our best we have the chance of getting that championship. So that's what we're really focused on this year."

And should anyone let focus slip, that Dog right behind the line will set things straight. Tyler Russell set a stack of records last season and should complete this senior year with every State standard worth owning. Like his linemen though the record Russell cares about most involves Ws and Ls…or just wins period. Clausell has seen an intensity from the quarterback this preseason surpassing anything before, and that is saying something indeed.

"He was the leader last year but this year I feel there's more fire under that leadership. He knows we've got a good chance of a championship this year and he pushes everybody, whether its offense or defense to do what they need to do to become the best every day."

What has helped make this offensive front better for the past three weeks is the work on the other side of the line. Tackle Clausell reports some serious practice and scrimmage testing by defensive ends Denico Autry and Preston Smith. That pair has been maybe the best preparation for pass protection possible. For that matter fourth-year junior blocker Clausell is already having to hustle when tested against true freshman end Chris Jones.

"I'll go against him a couple of times. That's a big kid, man! He's still young but he's got a lot of talent and a lot of size and keeps getting better every day. I could see him wreaking havoc on the field. He's got size and talent and skills, put that in combination that's a bad thing for the opponent."

But a good preparation for the offensive frontmen. "They work to get your better, but this year I've seen Charles and I have improved our skills they've improved on theirs also. It's just making each other better, that's what we focus on." The improving applies to third tackle Damien Robinson, who was slowed for a couple of weeks by a knee issue. "I think he's ready to go, he's doing pretty good, getting more comfortable playing."

It's time for a couple of younger blockers to find their varsity comfort levels as well. Depth at tackle rests upon redshirts Justin Senior and Cole Carter, with Archie Muniz able to swing to tackle from guard if needed. For that matter most Bulldog blockers are trained for multiple positions, which can make the learning process for youngsters interesting. "They're coming along pretty good, still working and getting better," Clausell said. "They're just ready to get in when their time is called."

For starters that time is shortly after 2:30 Saturday. Three hours later grades from Mississippi State's first test will be in. Clausell is optimistic even with—or maybe because of?—those jitters.

"Honestly all I could see is 1-0. A win is a great start for the season, beating a top-25 team."


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