From The Dawghouse - Sept 29, 2013

If any did not take fullest advantage of open date, well, they were warned. Or at least very firmly advised by the boss. Because Monday it's allllll business again. "The opportunity to spend a little time with their family and away from football hopefully gets us energized for tomorrow's practice," Coach Dan Mullen said today.

An interesting motivation method, eh? Relax or else! Really though the coach didn't have to ‘order' these Bulldogs to take a break. College kids attack time-off the way a smart read-option quarterback does the crease he sees developing; and both make their most of it. In fact, Mullen suspected last week his team wanted to start early based on a slow start to Tuesday's practice. "The coaches stopped and got after them," he reported. Fortunately the message to, as Mullen phrases it ‘be there' in mind and body both got through and the rest of the short week went seemingly smoother.

Also, said Mullen, folk "Always forget these are 18-19-20 year old kids out there playing a lot, and they're regular kids. Summer school overlaps with training camp, back into school, and game week."

Well and good. But upon returns to campus Mullen wants everyone immediately and entirely at work again for the potentially-pivotal home game again. I say ‘potentially' because an upset victory will not only offset that frustrating loss at Auburn, this would push Mississippi State onto a faster track. But it will be a true SEC upset because, you know, them Tigers are mighty good.

Yeah, I saw the last ten minutes or so of their Saturday setback at Georgia, which was not an upset by any means. Change homefields and change the final score I'm convinced, just the same as State-Auburn would have gone at Scott Field. Hey, that's life in this league between well-matched teams. This week isn't nearly so balanced of course, but that too is also the current reality. Might the trend change this weekend?

Could. State squads have been somewhat—somewhat--more competitive with LSU these last five meetings. Then again anything would be more competitive than this series from 2001-07 so maybe I'm just speaking in degrees. Guess what I'm saying is that Mullen's MSU teams haven't been so intimidated by the matchup and that's progress of a sort. Snapping a streak now at 13 years has to start somewhere.

Or re-start in team terms with tomorrow's return to practicing. Obviously what the new week re-ignites is quarterback questions. Y'know, Dan Mullen might downplay his own youthful tenure at the position, making cracks about having been a weak-armed thrower yet slow. But as coach he is quite the artful scrambler on this subject, offering bare-bones responses to repeated questions without pinning himself or his two quarterbacks into any proverbial corners.

Take today. No, nobody came right out and asked who will be under-center for the first Saturday snap. We on the weekly beat know better and leave that to local TV types, who don't. Besides, what seems uncertainty to others isn't an issue to Mullen. Nor, I'm starting to believe, to the Bulldogs themselves. They've now won D-I games under different quarterbacks (in the key cases of some blockers and backs three of ‘em actually) so I don't get a sense they are overly concerned right now who is calling cadence. Perhaps such opinions will adjust by around 11:00pm Saturday.

But for now the squad seems to accept their coach's version of a two quarterback ‘system'. I apostrophize (wow, spell check cleared it!) because to me and maybe just me any offense that changes quarterbacks for any percentage of plays not dictated by scoring margin or injury is a true dual-quarterback approach. Yes, that included last year's use of Dak Prescott in short yards/goal line settings while Tyler Russell ran everything else. That too was a two-quarterback ‘system' to me. You might disagree.

You can even disagree with Mullen not naming a for-sure starter…even if he seemed to a week ago after the Troy win. Just don't expect the coach to share such concerns. In fact, asked essentially if how A) Prescott has performed as starter or B) that the defense LSU brings to town demands dictates going with the younger quarterback, Mullen did dodge adeptly.

"It's always going to change from game to game, so we'll figure that out on game day when we have a plan ready for LSU," he said today. "But I do feel a lot more comfortable now that Dak has a couple of starts under his belt. Having two starting quarterbacks is a good problem to have, we feel pretty comfortable with both."

Take this, compare to last week's related statements, and you have…to wait. Oh and no, I don't see this as playing with Tiger minds. Nor are my words meant to set up cheap jokes aimed at their mentor's mentality I add hastily. Les Miles is often amusing to be sure, but he ain't no Dale Brown. That mold got broken long ago and our SEC world is sadly duller for it. Come to think of it, as well as digress again, one reason my long-ago love of basketball faded is that there are no Browns, Durhams, Smiths, Sandersons, on our league's benches. You kids can't know the characters you missed. Mercy, imagine those coaches in the Twitter era?!

Sorry, where was I…right. Quarterbacks. Both of them. Russell has been off-interview-limits since his injury and apparently stays so until playing again. So I can't claim knowing what he's thinking of this situation. I can suspect. He wants to win as much as he wants to play, and to start. Which is how a quarterback is supposed to be of course. It'd be insulting to suggest a player of legitimate pride, as well as accomplishment, would want to only watch a win though I also figure Tyler would say all the right things anyway. Point is, he'll do everything his coaches demand to be ready for a rematch with an opponent he badly wants to beat at last. Ditto Prescott. And in the current State context of an uphill battle for bowl eligibility, genuine competition in practice by the triggermen should only rub-off in right ways on the rest of the roster. Should. We'll see in six more evenings, then apply the results to the next seven games.

Speaking of competition… Time and attention are about to get really stretched for all of us. The latest NCAA adjustment to basketball calendars (sooner or later TV will demand games starting November 1, book it) means practice is getting underway. No midnight madness thank Heaven, but we did get to chat with Rick Ray and a couple of Dogs this past Friday. Did you know Craig Sword's nickname came not from his frantic style of play? It's because as a baby his hands looked a little poultry-like to Momma. Seriously, I couldn't make that up. What State has made-up is an October 11 evening session with Bulldog basketball, so plan accordingly.

And of course that is the Friday we get to see the Diamond Dogs on the field, as a full team, for the first time since departing Omaha. Fall baseball, moved back from the 4th to the 11th I just found out, begins with the first of several Friday-Saturday-Sunday scrimmage series John Cohen has booked. A roster will be helpful and a scorecard frustrating what with a lot of scripted pitcher-and-batter matchups and extended innings. But it'll be good fun all the same, as we watch contenders scramble for jobs left at catcher, shortstop, and rightfield.

I posted on the baseball board Wednesday several health updates which are still there to see, so no need repeating here. Gene will be recording pitching speeds as usual and reporting offensive numbers. We won't be tracking beards in fall, as several notable ones were trimmed during the summer swelter. But lemme tell you, the Diamond Dogs have made excellent use of the Seal Complex weightroom, a reminder of the working relationship those two sports and coaches have. Seriously, I'd like to know if there's anywhere else in this league that football makes its dedicated and state-of-art weightroom fully available to the baseball team?

I'd also like to know anywhere else a star first baseman stands in the coach's office doorway to ask a reporter who will be the next game's starting quarterback? Wes, if you don't know then I surely don't. Another baseball by-the-way, at a foodless lunch for me today (I was meeting my niece and her parents in town for her birthday, and had to exit early for Mullen's teleconference; the things I do for y'all!) I crossed paths with Ross Mitchell. He was still on crutches but dumps them soon enough and will be fine for the season.

With all the action immediately ahead the open-date came at a fine time. Even Mullen wound-down a little, saying he watched the LSU-Georgia shootout but not entirely as he was being the family man. He'll see enough this evening while scouting the Tigers anyway. The rest of us ought to have noticed an offense largely unlike the true spread-schemes of the first four games. But, and worryingly, when LSU found their ground game stuffed—and frankly that surprised me—they went to the air often and accurately. And if there's a more dangerous home-run threat in the league than Odell Beckham I haven't watched one yet. Geoff Collin's guys have a man's work ahead prepping for this matchup.

Something else I've been noticing more of this early season. It's not quite like the NFL where every week is a new season, understand. But with rare exceptions and thus title-leading examples I am not seeing a whole lot of club consistency so far. It's not even a matter of matchups, just that college clubs seem to swing wildly from efficient to futile in the span of seven days. More so on offense maybe but on the whole very few teams look the same game to game. A few explanations arise; I've seen more September injuries than I at least think has been the case of recent years. Or maybe they're just being better-reported?

Also it looks, again maybe superficially, that ballclubs aren't able to maintain intensity for any significant stretch. Top-to-bottom talent certainly can offset this and likely does with the Alabamas and Oregons—and by the way if they played today I'd take the Ducks on a neutral field. Check back in November though. I have to wonder if the mental and emotional demands on players, not to mention the increasingly frenzied stresses of tempo offenses, isn't overloading a lot of circuits in early seasons. Makes one also wonder, given the type of personnel and the skills State is accumulating on both sides of the ball, if in '14 we might not ought up the play-pace here too? Just a thought.

Or, just another Sunday rambling after breaking my own working-stride for a day. A Saturday in which, get this, the computer stayed closed. Nope, not even a look, a post, or a tweet. Nothing. First time since early July, I believe, and way overdue for someone definitely not 18-19-20ish. The next open date won't be so relaxing as baseball and basketball will be busy.

As are we all again. See you at the stadium around 2:30-ish Saturday.

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