Offense Is Gaining Confidence With Production

The points and production were both up; the mistakes and turnovers down. So by statistical standards Mississippi State made marked offensive progress from their first major conference-opponent game to the second. Yet since both went down as losses, work remains for this side of the Bulldog squad and Les Koenning.

It's been an intense early season for the offensive coordinator, most obviously in his role as quarterbacks coach. And Koenning really is coaching up multiple quarterbacks now, three of them in fact. Mississippi State (1-2) has been without senior Tyler Russell, concussed on opening day and held out of two complete games. Coach Dan Mullen said today on the SEC teleconference there is no change so far this week to Russell's status pending the next medical test.

Still Russell is practicing daily to play Saturday against Troy (2-1), just as he did last week. Clearance can come as late as pregame warmups and the elder quarterback immediately activated. So Koenning continues splitting first-team practice snaps with Dak Prescott, while freshman Damian Williams is now activated and available in a pinch too.

What did you see in review of the Auburn game on offense? "It was a lot better, it really was. We had over 400 yards of offense. The only thing that really upsets you offensively is you had two opportunities in their plus-territory, and we came so close. I mean, you look at a couple of fourth downs; we're 3rd-and-a-yard away from it on a couple of occasions. And we just have to fight for those extra yards and get that." Coach Mullen said Dak Prescott might have called his own number a few times too often? "I thought he made some excellent decisions and some excellent reads. I mean, the kid rushed for 133 yards and threw for 207! It's hard to say, he might have one or two things that might have went wrong with him. But on a whole and in an environment like that he was under control with the game, he knew exactly what was coming up, he knew exactly what to expect. I was pleased with his performance. Again, it comes down to those couple of plays. And when you're in a SEC battle that's what it comes down to, a couple of plays here and there that if we'd just made them it would have been really, really easy."

On passing plays Prescott had a lot of time to sit back there? "He had a lot of time, the offensive line gave him some time to find some receivers who got open, completed some balls. It was really nice, it helped our run game immensely. And in our run game when Dak's in the game it's a different type of run game too. He can carry the ball for us and make some big plays, which he did for us."

Is the frequent contact Prescott takes on rushes in your thinking during the game? "I know Dak. He's thinking about his reads, his progressions, he's not really thinking about how many times he carried it! He's more worried about can I get the first down, what can I do to move the football. A couple of times on the headset when I talked to him I said well, you ready? He said yeah Coach, I'm ready to go, I need to talk to my guys. That's pretty impressive, he wanted to go to talk to his team to get them up, get them going."

What kind of intangibles does Prescott bring? "He strives for excellence. He really does. He strives for that point where when we hand out grades every day he's the first guy looking at his grade… ‘Aaahh, no, no!' (I say) Look at the film; ‘OK, you caught me, you caught me!' You know, one of those deals. And he really prides himself on that which is really neat when you go in the room and the guy picks up his gradesheet and goes what is this? Yeah, this, this, this. So it means a lot to him."

Beginning of the season would you have envisioned 4th-and-one, deep in your own end and letting Dak try to deliver a first down? "You know, we didn't do it backed-up, we were a little bit farther out. And it was a good play. Dak ran the ball really well and got us a first down on it. And it was really good, I mean it really was."

You have gone on fourth downs more times than anyone in the country? "As long as we keep making it, it's OK!"

Do you like that mentality though? "Give them confidence, let them play. I think that's a big part of being successful."

Mullen said it isn't a big deal revising practice snaps for the two quarterbacks under Tyler Russell's uncertain circumstances? "No, it's not. It really isn't. We'll get him well, get him ready to go and we'll fit right in there where we need to be."

Third down conversions have improved the last two weeks? "We really have. And that's mainly because of mental mistakes, we've eliminated mental mistakes. Early in the year there's a lot of mental mistakes."

The receivers have also been making plays? "Yeah, they did. They gave us some opportunities, and they made some plays. Again it comes down to making plays. I think we're so close, and the beauty of it too—and I told the offense this—we didn't turn the ball over. It's a hard game to swallow, because we did the plan to win, we didn't turn the ball over, and keep changing field positions. And that was tough. But we had opportunities offensively and needed to capitalize on them. When we got those two on the plus side we needed to capitalize on them."

Were you surprised Auburn gave the middle of the field? "Well, again it depends what coverage they were in. Certain coverages dictate that. And they mixed-up their coverages well and Dak made some really good reads and the receivers were in the right spots. So it turned out pretty good!"

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