Day, Big Dogs Address Small Blocking Details

Even the biggest Bulldogs must handle the smallest items to succeed. Or as Dillon Day calls them "the littlest things," which loomed pretty large as he reviewed the opening-day defeat.

"I mean, it was just the littlest things," reported Mississippi State's center about offensive line play against Oklahoma State. "Like maybe someone going the wrong way, or someone missing a block or making a wrong read. But it's all correctible things, nothing like a big issue."

Yet as they learned the hard way last Saturday, big issues can spring from such seemingly small stuff when taking on a top-twenty opponent. While the junior center isn't pinning the 21-3 loss entirely on his own unit it does not take many minor breakdowns to disrupt an offensive line…and in turn derail the entire offense.

Lack of consistency, for one. The Bulldogs opened well on that side of the ball with drives of 57, 48, and 33 yards in just the first quarter. Only one series produced points of course and that came back to bite, hard, once the hard-charging Cowboys got their own offense moving. Still it was Mississippi State that came out strongest.

Then they netted 187 yards the rest of the game and no more scoring. Of those, 75 yards came in a fourth-quarter series after OSU had scored their third touchdown. So it was the second- and third-quarter lapses that lost this opening opportunity.

"We did some good things, we definitely did some bad things," Day said. "We were on pages with a lot of things, and a lot of things it was just one guy here, one guy there. But it's all correctible things and we'll definitely bounce back from it."

To be fair, the underrated Oklahoma State defense had some say in the mid-game proceedings, aided—as many fans have forgotten—by two deep-placed punts that obviously factored into some MSU decisions. This helped the Cowboy defense get more aggressive and resulted in three outright sacks, more hurried throws, and ten total stops for losses. Beginning mid-second quarter OSU simply appeared to take charge at the line of scrimmage.

Day doesn't necessarily agree with that evaluation, and the opinion of a veteran center should count for something. "I didn't think they got too much of a push, but that's from what I saw. People have opinions. But I thought the offensive line, we played well…and then we did some dumb things too." Such as?

"Just your technique stuff, the stuff we work on every day, everybody really messing up on it. So our technique and our steps, and stuff like that."

That raises natural questions about why such stuff should be cropping up in a unit that returns four full-time starters from 2012 and a ‘new' starter who opened four games himself last year. There's even star-power on the front line with Day a second-time Rimington Award watch listee, and left guard Gabe Jackson projected among the very top professional prospects at his position. Such experience should tend to limit basic mistakes.

At least it does allow older Dogs like Day to recognize the flaws faster and hopefully take care of corrections. Because, he insists, the opportunity was there to be seized Saturday in Houston.

"We knew what they were going to do and we had a great plan to do it, it was just poor execution on really everybody's part. Oklahoma State is a really good team and they made the least mistakes. It was two good teams battling and they happened to make the least mistakes. It just shows up we're so close, it's the littlest things we have to fix."

In fact, the offensive line didn't wait for Monday practice to start some fixing. They were working on it as early as the second half…and had plenty time to do so as State snapped the ball six times in the third period. That was tough to take, Day said.

"But we're going over plays on the sideline, so we're always working on stuff. When you're not on the field much it's hard to get in a rhythm but that's going to happen and you have to fight through it."

Mississippi State's next fight is on the home field, with Alcorn State (1-0) coming to Scott Field for a 2:35 Saturday contest. Normally this would be a typical SEC vs SWAC matchup for the Bulldogs who under Coach Dan Mullen have thrashed Jackson State twice in home debuts. Yet suddenly things aren't exactly normal for State.

Injuries to four starters leave some lineups in limbo, more obviously at quarterback where senior Tyler Russell is ruled doubtful after a third-quarter concussion. Though not ruled-out until after a follow-up examination later in the week, Russell is not practicing seriously at the moment either. Even if cleared to play Mullen indicates caution is the best course right now, with a long SEC season still in store.

So as of now Dak Prescott is being prepared for his first college start. The third-year sophomore got live snaps in the first half in short-yardage situations which weren't converted; then took over entirely late in the third period. He finished 7-of-17 passing with an interception on his last throw and 89 yards.

What fans would rather recall about Prescott is how often he succeeded as a situational quarterback in 2012, in short-yardage and goal-line settings that up until the last two games were almost guaranteed. Plus, Prescott has been groomed for larger duties this season since spring. This is why Day said the offense "Doesn't change one bit for us."

Not tactically, he means. Personality? Yeah, there's that.

"It sounds funny but it is totally different. Because Dak is kind of a hyper guy, he's ready to attack stuff. And Tyler is kind of laid-back more. They say the cadence a little different, and they feel your butt a little different." Such details means something to a center of course. What matters more is Mississippi State need not tear up the preseason playbook. Or even alter many of the pages for that matter.

"I mean, Dak and Tyler are two different type of quarterbacks but we still have our same assignments," Day reminded. "And we have the same mindset, and both are real good quarterbacks. So we don't take it any differently." No, not even the business of making pre-snap reads and checks from the sideline play call. It's true Day as the older hand might take a little stronger say in such things since the center has seen a lot more live snaps.

Regardless, it is the quarterback who has call for the ball in the end. "Dak is still a young guy and he hasn't played too much but he knows everything to do. He's just like Tyler, real smart and he knows the checks and reads." To Day, the deal now is just making sure he and Prescott are working off the same proverbial page.

"If we get off-pages we could have the running back going the wrong way, blow a protection, or miss an assignment." Is Day anxious about this unexpected change? Nah, especially not with a fellow Louisianan taking his snap. "Me and Dak are real close, it's not a problem at all for me."

Interestingly they aren't the only imports from across the river involved with center/quarterback business this week. If Russell is absolutely out Saturday, the backup officially becomes freshman and New Orleans native Damian Williams. Day reported that the rookie was taking snaps from him Monday as #2 in the drills rotation. "So if he has to come into the game we'll definitely be prepared."


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